Our first “Charlotte Encore” – a presentation from the previous IAP2 North American Conference that attendees told us should be shared via webinar – brought back the Thursday lunch keynote speakers. Liz Styron and Kaleia Martin of YES! Youth Empowered Solutions challenged us to consider the intersection of racial bias and marginalizing young people. (Read more) Liz and Kaleia show that, even if everything else is equal or a non-white person has an advantage, race puts that person at a demonstrable disadvantage. Race, they’ve learned, is the number-one deciding factor in health and life outcomes.
Communities of people of color tend to be regarded as “expendable”, as seen in the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which is predominantly black, or the coal-ash pits in North Carolina, which are located at or near predominantly black communities.
There is an urgency to address the situation, they say. Because today’s youth are tomorrow’s decision makers, it’s vital that critical thinking and critical awareness be nurtured now. Instead, what they are seeing is young people “turning off” as they see the environmental emergency around the world and feel powerless about it. That, in turn, leads to nations that are suffering, economically, spiritually, culturally and civilly. Young people – the under-18 set — need to be “invited to the table” where their ideas will be welcomed and considered and acted-upon.
Youth, they assert, doesn’t mean lack of wisdom, and age doesn’t necessarily mean a “wisdom advantage”; working in a true partnership, with youth at the center – and not “poster children” or “token young people” – leads to more sustainable movements.
Already, there are indications that this kind of partnership can bear fruit. A recent visit by climate change activist Greta Thunberg to North Carolina brought attention to the situation in that state, drew North Carolina’s own youth activists into the spotlight and led to changes in the state’s climate policies. (Kaleia was, herself, invited to the Governor’s Mansion to be recognized for her work in climate change.)
So how does all this relate to Public Participation? Kaleia and Liz make the case that you can’t do P2 properly without marrying youth empowerment with racial equity. How do you do it? Watch the webinar and let them explain more. IAP2 members can access the webinar – and the webinar archive here.