From Denver to Seattle, to whatever city Brave New Voices finds its annual home, I’ve always loved being one voice in a chorus of youth shouting, “Youth right now are the truth right now!” This short chant, cheered at nearly every Youth Speaks Seattle open mic and slam, still rings electric in my throat when I yell it. To honor the expansiveness and power of youth art and movement might mean allowing “the next generation to speak for itself”. As someone who gets to witness visionary art and organizing from the YSS Spokes on a regular basis, this possibility feels… possible (fancy that). Even more, it feels creative, productive and revolutionary.
Yet, for many [adult-run] community organizations and spaces, adults struggle to envision how youth can take part in conversations about programs and services, even if they are the intended audience. Often, this is a result of ‘adultism’ (and how it interacts with racism, classism, ableism, sexism, homophobia and more), a term meaning the “prejudice and accompanying systematic discrimination against young people”. In an adult-defined world, youth don’t get much say in the systems they are forced to navigate, sometimes without support. Activist and youth worker Paul Kivel offers a more in-depth article about how adultism can play out: https://www.paulkivel.com/resources/articles/23-article/83-adultism
I’ve heard fellow youth organizers joke about how adults always say “Free Pizza!” as a way to entice youth to show up to programs that adults planned for them. While free pizza is definitely a legit reason to attend an event (this is not a request to stop offering free food – lets keep feeding youth), but why is that a main strategy for adults to engage youth? What would free pizza look like if we added youth collaboration and leadership to the menu?
I’m excited to live in a city where visionary youth-driven/led organizing has thrived. It’s been a tremendous learning experience to watch youth and adults negotiate how genuine youth leadership can take shape, beyond tokenization or lip service. From Seattle Young People’s Project and Queer Youth Space to YSS itself, there are some radical role models in town to push forward the conversation of youth-centric movements & orgs. (And of course, badass youth-driven orgs extend beyond Seattle, check out Fierce and Youth Speaks National, just to name a few…)
Coming up in the Denver Minor Disturbance Youth Poetry Slam, being a youth poet part of a larger youth movement was strengthened by amazing adult allies. Though I wasn’t using terms like ‘adultism’ and ‘ally’, I knew that my fierce mentors helped transform my agency and poetry by dedicating endless time and energy investing in youth poets. Slams were all ages and warmly intergenerational, with many bonds formed between youth and adults artists. Surely, many audience members thought, “Oh, those youth poets are so adorably angry!”, assuming our passion wasn’t to be taken seriously, seen as simply something we’d outgrow. But among the adult poets, we were given the chance to spit, share awe and even beat the grown ups. At the end of the day, the amount of magic that I felt my mentors possessed kept me coming back to them with trust and inspiration. They were the experts, the teachers, the wise elders that pushed me to find my own voice on the mic. Now, I see that they did not “have all the answers” but rather they asked me the right questions.
Now, as I begin to age out of my youth identity, I start to find myself on that other side of mentorship. What does it mean for me to grow into the role of a mentor? An adult ally to young folks? How can our communities be intergenerational and maintain a keen analysis of adultism and its intersecting oppressions? What does “youth-led” mean in practice? And where do adults and mentors fit in, with all of our varied experiences and identities? As a young person, I saw first hand exactly how transformative mentorship could be to young artists and activists. Accountable and intentional mentorship creates space for youth to work through thought processes, refine skills and gain support from adults. How do we bridge the gaps between youth leadership and adult support in sustainable, critical and genuine ways?
If you’ve got answers, half-answers, brainstorms, pushback, questions or resources, please drop me a line to continue the conversation, at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Read Paul Kivel’s “Are You Mentoring for Social Justice?”: https://www.paulkivel.com/resources/articles/23-article/114-are-you-mentoring-for-social-justice
- Stay in the loop with the budding Seattle Youth Coalition: https://tinyurl.com/SEAyouthcalendar
- Support YSS Spokes in their organizing: https://www.facebook.com/youthspeaks206
- Check out these rad youth & student orgs:
- Anakbayan Seattle: https://www.facebook.com/anakbayan.seattle
- Queer Youth Space: https://queeryouthspace.org/
- Seattle Young People’s Project: https://sypp.org/
- API Chaya’s Project Q: https://www.apichaya.org/
- Poets with a Purpose: https://www.voicesofburien.com
- MEChA de UW: https://www.facebook.com/mecha.deuw