Our youth are speaking, and we need to listen

Building a community where young people are valued, respected, and engaged as leaders of today is fundamental to our collective vision for Best Starts for Kids. Next month on this blog, we’ll begin a series of posts about how we can support the young people in our lives and communities. We’ll discuss concrete actions you can take, resources and tips for adults, and reflections on what it means to build this community together. If you have a question, want to suggest a topic for this series, or just want to give a shout-out to a young person doing great things in your community, let us know in the comments below.


by Megan McJennett, Best Starts for Kids 5-24 Policy and Program Manager

In the aftermath of such tragic loss in Parkland last week, we are witnessing our youth teach us how to be leaders—we need to watch and learn.  We are witnessing our youth organize—we need to join them. We are witnessing our youth raise their voices to be heard over the politics of adults—we need to amplify it. We need to be with them in any manner they want us to be. This week, one young man said, “We need to scream until they listen.” They shouldn’t have to scream. We should be listening.

As I absorbed the news of another school shooting last week, I felt numb and useless. But the youth who were in the building—who felt the walls of their school vibrate with gun fire, who had to step over bodies to escape the place that was built for them to learn and grow—did not. They exhibited great leadership. They stood up and said, “No. Not again.” The next day. The very next day. They began to speak truth to power  to politicians from Tallahassee to Washington DC. They used the tools they had at their thumbs and organized rallies, hashtags, and meetings with The President of the United States. In less than a week this group of students took their trauma and grief and turned it into action. That is power. That is a group of leaders that is a going to change this world and we, as their adult allies, need to listen to them and let them lead us.

jessica-podraza-524570-unsplashWhat is happening in Parkland right now is raw and public, but youth all over the country, every day are working hard to make policy changes big and small, to improve their communities, to make life better for their friends and neighbors. They don’t get live town halls on CNN or meetings in the White House, but they deserve our attention and our support.

Building a community where young people are valued, respected, and engaged as leaders of today is fundamental to our collective vision for Best Starts for Kids. Too often youth voices are tokenized; too often they are ignored; too often adults believe they know best. It is easy to fall into this pattern—I catch myself every day—but we need to keep learning, growing and questioning ourselves. We need to keep asking ourselves these critical questions: do youth have a genuine voice in our organization, community, or family? Do I truly listen to what a young person is saying to me, or have I already decided how I am going to answer? How willing am I to share my power with a young person? How willing am I to receive critical feedback and not roll my eyes and say, “Ugh, teenagers!”?

Now, as we grieve for the loss of life in Parkland, we have an opportunity to deepen our commitment to standing behind our youth, not just in Florida, but in our own communities. Whether you are a parent, an educator, a neighbor, or community member, we all have a role to play. In the coming weeks on this blog, we’ll begin a series of posts about how we can support the young people in our lives and communities. We’ll discuss concrete actions you can take, resources and tips for adults, and reflections on what it means to build this community together. If you have a question, want to suggest a topic for this series, or just want to give a shout-out to a young person doing great things in your community, let us know in the comments below.

Our youth are speaking, and we need to listen. We need to follow their lead. We need to support them in their action. So let’s get ready.


Read all the blog posts in our youth leadership series:

2 thoughts on “Our youth are speaking, and we need to listen

  1. Thanks for the great article. As a parent, I’m ready to help however I can and would like to continue receiving articles on what adults can do to help empower our youth/young adults on gun control issues.

    • So good to hear, Pam! If you’re subscribed, you’ll receive notifications of our upcoming posts in this series, including ways to support youth that are advocating locally. If you’re not subscribed yet, you easily can by clicking to follow the blog on the upper right hand column of the blog. Thanks!

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