By Ernesto Reyes
Youth have a difficult task these days — navigating a political and social climate that promotes and exemplifies some of the ugliest and most intolerant aspects of the nation’s past and present. The generation that has the world at their fingertips via the internet and social media and around the clock access to knowledge and current events can either be empowered or disenfranchised. Having the opportunity to join and participate in two youth centric summits recently, I got a better sense of where the heads and hearts of youth are with respect to this new climate.
The first summit I attended was hosted by Alcohol Justice in San Rafael, CA. Alcohol Justice mobilizes coalitions that include youth, adults, and community leaders to organize, enact, support, and advocate for alcohol policies that keep youth and communities safe and healthy. They hosted their 3rd annual Youth Summit based on the theme of Strength through Unity. I was one of a few young adults joining an intergenerational cohort that also included grandparents/elders, and youth.
Dancers honoring the gathering.
To open the gathering, Aztec dancers honored the four directions to ground us and honored Mother Earth. This created a powerful space for young adults and youth to absorb wisdom as active listeners, gave new energy to the elders, and grounded us all in community. It also showed me that learning manifests when those in the space channel energy authentically, pass down meaningful knowledge, and demonstrate investment in people’s ideas. Towards the end, we were asked to draw and contribute ideas to the proposed mural the center was commissioning. Closing out the day, we worked on a small garden that was nestled next to a liquor store. Beautifying the space, planting new flowers and herbs, and working across generations was one of the highlights of the day and helped close out the day in a regenerative way. The fact that the garden is in the vicinity of a liquor store, one of the places challenged by Alcohol Justice, is an example of how resistance can be achieved in the form of regenerative and restorative practices.
The following day I went to Credo High School to host a workshop at their Youth Summit. It brought together various groups working in non-profits, environmental protection, and local schools. The various schools that were in attendance had the opportunity to highlight and showcase their green efforts and solutions practiced at their home schools. I was humbled and inspired by what the youth were engaging in at their campuses and how each of them had a passionate stake in those efforts. The adults had an opportunity to highlight our respective organizations. When I gave my elevator pitch almost all of the youth had heard of Bioneers and the work that we do. It was a refreshing reminder that our work is noticed and recognized by the youth even months after the conference.
Ernesto Speaking with Group of Youth
The workshop that I held discussed the goals of social and environmental justice while asking the youth to align and discover the intersections between the two subjects. In both sessions, we had youth examine specific examples of social and environmental justice, hold dialogues amongst themselves about what each of the movements meant to them and what questions they had about each. The standout from both sessions were the youth and their awareness of these issues and how it affects the world and more significantly their home community. They tied the different examples of social and environmental justice to issues that were affecting their home communities and named some of the ways they were addressing and engaging those issues.
Witnessing the youth engage and align these issues and ideas to their lives and the passions they embody left the other adults in the room, including myself, with a sense of profound humility. I saw that youth were feeling encouraged rather than overwhelmed. Some youth did feel challenged and daunted by the scale and scope of the issues, but were reassured by their peers that their emotions were valid and part of the process of learning how to understand and change these realities.
Youth held their own energy, grounded themselves in their work, and eagerly listened to what others had to share. These gatherings illustrated that youth were learning and engaging with content and realities in their respective communities in real time. Taking the time to actively participate with one another and adults on a sunny weekend in the Bay Area showed me that the youth are active and seeking ways to better themselves and their communities.
Youth have a difficult task these days — navigating a political and social climate that promotes and exemplifies some of the ugliest and most intolerant aspects of the nation’s past and present. They are doing so with an open heart, burning passion, an open mind, and hopes for a future that brings out the best in all of us.