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Young and engaged – a recipe for change

['At the Y with Jan Matthews']
['At the Y with Jan Matthews']

At the Y with Jan Matthews

The youth were on the move last weekend.

In the few weeks since of the recent mass shooting in an American school, a group of high school students mobilized for the March for Our Lives which has been described as the largest youth-led protest in the American capital since the Vietnam War.

High school shooting-survivor David Hogg spoke out against the reality that “every single day…there are children being murdered as a result of gun violence.” And hundreds of thousands of his generation responded with a demand for more than the ‘thoughts and prayers’ that have become their government’s standard response to the reality of gun violence in their country.

Each up-and-coming generation has been described as disengaged, disinterested or unrealistic as young perspectives confront the established ideas and attitudes of the day. Social commentary through the years has despaired for the future of community, country and society in general. Real change is never easy, whether on a personal level or within society as a whole, and it’s clear that the momentum for such is coming from the streets rather than the boardrooms. There’s a power in youth culture that both demands and brings about social change.

Yet despite historical patterns of youth leading the charge for change, there may be many barriers for young people wishing to take a leadership role and get involved in their communities. Social issues such as poverty, homelessness and food security can have a greater impact on those who have little control over family situations. Economic realities can limit opportunities, from education to engagement, and leading the next wave of social change takes time, energy and optimism. Not everyone’s circumstances allow those luxuries.

And as much as new ideas need to be heard, we need to listen. Young people around the world are becoming more engaged and looking for civic and political influence. In most cases, they speak beyond their immediate demographic, advocating for those not always represented by the boardroom or government.

The involvement of the Amherst Youth Town Council (AYTC) has grown since its inception, from providing to support for community activities to raising awareness for issues they feel affect the youth in town. The YMCA is currently establishing a youth advisory council to ensure that the up-and-coming generation will have a voice and influence on how their local Y grows and develops. Other organizations wishing to be relevant in the future will be doing the same.

Looking for change? Ask a young person what they think – and remember to listen.

Jan Matthews writes a column for the Cumberland YMCA.

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