|Photo: Maricruz Lozano|
Two of the three key organizers of the walkout were youth I have known for years, alumni of an Urban 4-H club focused on youth engagement for positive change. As I stood in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in Minneapolis, youth converged in the snowy cold to share donated food, hot drinks, and their personal immigration stories and perspectives through an open mic. I watched the two young women I knew become radiantly alive, wielding bullhorns to direct the crowd and convening their planning team to make collective decisions. I wondered, “What is the connection between youth development and this kind of protest experience?”
Researchers have probed this question about the role of youth empowerment in youth development. They found that the experience of exerting sociopolitical control in their world has important positive outcomes for youth, such as promoting positive mental health and reducing risky behaviors. When they are confident about influencing a problematic issue, it can significantly reduce the negative impact that situation has on them and their behavior. Their ability to develop this sense of self-efficacy within larger systems, however, may depend on the support they receive from caring adults in their community. The researchers concluded that rather than shielding youth from negative community or political issues, youth development programs should support active engagement in community change processes because young people’s sociopolitical development is key to their overall well being and success.
In reflecting upon these remarkable young leaders, we can see that their own inner fire motivated them but they were also calling upon the skills, confidence and sense of self-efficacy they have developed through experiences and supportive relationships throughout their lives, including in 4-H. They inspire me to help other youth and adults stoke their inner fires, as well.
As we in youth work strive to equip young people to learn and lead in a global society, how can we best prepare them to tackle the thorny sociopolitical issues that impact their lives and to effect change in their communities? As we train volunteers to be caring and supportive adults, how can we encourage them to support young people’s empowerment, as well?
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