This past year, we saw young people leading the way on issues as diverse as climate change, immigration, and gun violence. As youth activist Emma González writes, “It seems as if the kids are the only ones who still have the energy to make change.” It’s clear that young people are not content to accept the status quo and that adults can learn a lot from their leadership.
At Girls Inc., supporting youth advocacy runs in our blood. We have long been inspired by the passion and courage of Girls Inc. girls across our network. Take for instance Girls Inc. girls in Orange County, CA who advocated for schools in their conservative school district to offer comprehensive sex education; girls in Memphis who led efforts to combat local food deserts; Girls Inc. girls in Oakland who have championed violence prevention efforts in their neighborhoods; and girls in Washington D.C. who co-authored and presented a report about discriminatory dress code policies that disproportionately affect girls of color.
Letter written by a Girls Inc. girl from Girls Inc. of Orange County to local school board
As an organization, we believe in the power of girls to create change in the world around them. But it’s not enough to just “believe” in them. As a society, we must invest in helping young people become effective advocates; that means elevating their voices, putting resources behind their efforts, and championing the changes they seek.
We know young people can best speak to the challenges they face in school and in their communities. That’s why Girls Inc. is launching a series of regional events this spring that we are calling #GirlsToo Teen Talks: Responding to Sexual Harassment and Violence in our Communities. These local events will provide a forum for young people to talk about how sexual harassment and violence affects them and their classmates, as well as an opportunity to engage the community in identifying potential solutions. We will hold these talks at Girls Inc. of Memphis in February, Girls Inc. of Orange County in March, and at Girls Inc. of the Pacific Northwest in April. The culmination of these regional events will be a national Teen Talk in New York City in May.
We know how pervasive sexual harassment is in the workplace. And most people are aware that sexual harassment and violence are rampant at our colleges and universities. But considerably fewer people are aware of how pervasive sexual harassment and violence are in K-12 schools, the lasting effects they have on young people, and what must be done to end this epidemic.
If we’re going to create a culture where all young people are respected and valued, we need to start by respecting and valuing their voices. As adults, it can be easy to be dismissive of young people, especially when they are seeking to change the status quo, which many adults accept as normal. We think we know best. That we have more experience. That they are naive. That their dreams are unattainable. But let’s think again.
I invite you to continue to think about the young people in your life – your child, your niece or nephew, your grandchild – and to imagine what the world would be like if we really invested in youth leadership.