Supporting Youth Activism

This post is adapted from The School Walkout: An Adult Ally Guide by Youth Era

In the wake of recent tragedies such as the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, youth have quickly become leaders in the discussion around gun control legislation. On March 24, youth and families will take the streets of Washington DC and communities around the world to demand safety become a priority and that there is an end to gun violence in schools.

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It is incredibly inspiring to see the dedication and passion being shown by teens across the country. This spark in youth activism has led many Club staff to ask, “how can we help?” Below are six simple ways you can serve as an adult ally to support youth in their efforts:

  1. Amplify their voices, not yours.

When advocating for the perspectives of youth, a good approach is to remove your agenda from the equation entirely, and instead ask thoughtful questions to help young people clarify their own messages and goals. As adult allies, it is essential that we create spaces for youth to use their voices. Allies can support youth voice through advocacy and by offering long-term assistance as young people work to be heard and respected for their steps toward change. Adults can partner with young people to develop and utilize long-term strategies for the amplification of youth voice and perspectives. Furthermore, allies can take the direct approach of inviting youth to participate at the table with decision-makers who can assist in bringing about change.

  1. Broadcast your willingness to be a “helper”.

Organize with other adult allies (e.g., parents, community members, church leaders, Club staff, etc.) and find ways to signal to students that you are available and willing to support their voice. It can be as simple as clicking “share” when a young person speaks up on social media or making your own posts to express interest in partnering with and advocating for youth. You may also choose to take a more direct approach by asking what you can do to help. Consider using the following question: “If you had an assistant to help you organize, what would you ask them to help you with?”

  1. Say, “your voice matters,” and mean it.

 Young people tend to feel discouraged when they can’t see the impact of their efforts. You can encourage youth directly by noticing their efforts and acknowledging their impact on your community. To help youth feel inspired, try sending out a press release to your local news outlets to spread awareness of the efforts they’re making.

  1. Assume competence in youth leadership.

 Assuming competence means giving young people meaningful and respectful feedback when appropriate, and providing a safety net when they make mistakes or their efforts don’t succeed. It’s also important to ensure that students understand the bigger picture when approaching complex subjects.

  1. Don’t assume anything else.

 It can be difficult to remember the kinds of obstacles we faced as students and, let’s face it, most adults never had to endure the level of fear that the threat of school violence presents in our current climate. When partnering with and working to empower young people, it’s important to acknowledge scheduling, transportation, youth culture, and group dynamics.

  1. Be realistic about consequences.

It’s critical that we inform students of the consequences facing those who choose to participate in school walkouts, marches and other protests. It’s also important to use our voices and influence to challenge those consequences whenever possible. We must work to find respectful ways of challenging school boards and other officials when students face unjust punishment.

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If you are looking for other ways to support your youth, or your youth are searching for other ways to make a difference besides the March, below are some solution-oriented projects and campaigns:

  • Start a social media campaign
  • Start an awareness building campaign on a topic of interest (gun control, mental health, law enforcement, safe environments, etc.)
  • Organize and host a peaceful march or protest
  • Start a policy reform campaign for your Club, school, or community
  • Organize and host a speaker series for your Club or community
  • Start a letter-writing campaign to local or national politicians
  • Organize and host a debate to get people talking about current events
  • Attend city or school council meetings
  • Write an opinion piece for a local newspaper, magazine or school paper
  • Create educational pamphlets and flyers to distribute at your Club, school, or in your community
  • Meet with your elected officials or offer to testify from the youth voice perspective on pending bills
  • Host a fundraising event and donate proceeds to a local or national activism cause
  • Host an event to help teens and adults in your Club or community register to vote

For the full School Walkout tip sheet, visit youthempowerment.com. For more information on BGCA’s Youth Development services, Boys & Girls Club staff can check out BGCA.net.

How do you support youth activism at your Club? How have you addressed school violence during after-school hours? Comment below or email us at ClubXBlog@bgca.org to share your best ideas!

 

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