The past few years have been filled with many challenges. A global pandemic has highlighted systemic racism, poverty, inequity, and social justice. There’s much work to be done, and much of it, moving forward, will fall on the shoulders of young people.
People have always been the driving force that transforms the world, and throughout history, youth activists have long shaped ideological and political conversations. And today, more than ever, with the rise, reach, and impact of social media, the power of youth to make their voices heard and shape political debates is great.
Encouraging and Guiding Young People to Find Their Voice
Young people possess many attributes that create strong leaders. They bring creativity and great energy to shape a better world. Combining those qualities with critical thinking and problem-solving capabilities can be a powerful force for change. Social change rarely happens quickly, and the effort requires commitment, focus, and the tenacity to withstand the setbacks that often pave the path for change.
It may be difficult for young people to see how they can use their voices and make themselves heard. Adults and leadership development programs, such as the year-round, multicultural youth leadership programs offered by REAP, can play a pivotal role in supporting children and young people in using and developing their voices.
These programs provide access to leadership development for all students. They nurture and empower students by facilitating young people’s opportunities to increase their confidence, self-esteem, aspirations, employability, and personal skills. It prepares them for a seat at the proverbial table where they can effect lasting change.
Programs that engage young people teach and remind them that no matter who we are, we can all influence those around us—from sharing information on social media to speaking at a local community meeting to simply having a conversation at the dinner table with family.
Change Begins at Home
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Gandi’s inspirational quote reminds us that everyone has the power to make an impact. Whether it’s by volunteering at a food bank, starting a nonprofit, or caring for your neighbors, what you do today can lead to lasting change.
Progress in changing society’s biggest problems starts at the grassroots level. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when we hear about so many global issues on the news and difficult to believe that just one person can make a difference. Fortunately, social change doesn’t have to happen instantly or on your own.
Events such as Elevate the Community are a great example of a grassroots movement that demonstrates how your actions can have a meaningful impact and change the lives of those in the community one day at a time. Community service teaches students valuable leadership skills and underscores the strength of a grassroots initiative.
Meaningful or effective change isn’t always instant, nor is it large-scale. Real impact can take months or years, and making the world a better place often means bettering it for a few people at a time. Every time you change just one person’s world, you’re starting a domino effect with the potential to improve lives for generations to come. In that way, one person’s actions really can change the world for good.
Moving in the Right Direction
Young people dubbed the Centennials (the newest generation, born between 1997 and 2012/15) or Gen Z in popular parlance will need to take the helm moving forward. The good news is that research suggests that this generation is one of the most civically engaged generations, with nearly 40 percent saying they have taken five or more civic actions in the past year.
The last several years have provided incredible examples of youth advocacy for a wide variety of issues. Young people have proven that they are capable of promoting big ideas and promoting substantial change. Greta Thunberg’s impassioned plea for environmental action, Malala Yousafzai’s advocacy for girls’ education, and Florida teenagers leading thousands in a march to demand action on gun control are just a few illustrations.
Every day at REAP, we see the remarkable potential of young people. Help us seed and nurture their desire to make a difference in the world. Volunteer or donate to help us ignite, elevate, and engage the next generation of leaders.