A few years ago, I sat down at a coffee shop with some disgruntled high school students. When I asked them what was wrong, they informed me that they were tired of being called “cute.” I smiled quietly and listened to their frustrations.
There is a deep truth to what they were sharing. For these high school students, it was not frustration about a family member telling them they are cute, or a friend being excited about a cute outfit or accessory — it was a deep desire for acknowledgement from adults and society that when a young person engages in the hard work of social change they are not doing it to be cute, they are not doing it to be honored for it, they are not even doing it just for the sake of their resume. Youth are engaging in this work because they are not willing to wait until society considers them adults to change the world around them.
I have spent most of my professional life working with young people. People often ask me why, and I struggle at times to come up with a “good answer.” What I do know is that I love the energy, I love the curiosity, I love the creativity and wisdom – but most of all, I love having the privilege of creating spaces where youth feel heard, trusted, and supported as they navigate the complex world that we live in. What a wonderful honor it is to support young people as they endeavor to join those around them in using their voices to create more loving, equitable, and just communities.
As PTU’s new Youth Engagement Director, I am excited to engage in conversations with all of you and with young people in our region over the next few months. These conversations will help me build relationships with PTU’s community and bring my own network into relationship with PTU. My goal is to hear directly from communities and their young people about how we can support them. We will be spending this year building programs that equip youth with knowledge, skills, and a community of support that will bring them directly into the work of interrupting bias and hate in their communities.
Amidst the messiness of navigating all the divisions in our communities, we hope to uphold the gifts and wisdom that young people bring. We believe that their contributions are integral to building paths to empathy and understanding and moving our communities towards places of unity and justice.