Youth lead­ers can have great im­pact

You are never too young to protest, write Craig and Marc Kiel­burger.

Ottawa Citizen - - YOU -

A new cadre of youth voices is emerg­ing in na­tion­wide protests against gun vi­o­lence. Thou­sands of class­rooms sat empty last month when stu­dents in the United States and Canada walked out in sol­i­dar­ity with the 17 peo­ple shot and killed in Florida in Fe­bru­ary.

Amid the ris­ing tide of youth ac­tivism, not ev­ery­one is con­vinced that kids could be that or­ga­nized.

We heard sim­i­lar whis­pers of skep­ti­cism on a smaller scale when we started our char­ity; some as­sumed it was our par­ents pulling the strings.

So we weren’t sur­prised when the same ugly doubt sur­faced around the March for Our Lives move­ment.

Whether in mas­sive marches or small com­mu­nity ac­tions, par­ents of­ten ask us how young is too young to get in­volved? We’ve al­ways an­swered that if young peo­ple are old enough to be af­fected by an is­sue, they’re old enough to act on it.

At age 12, Craig read an ar­ti­cle about child labour. Af­ter re­search­ing as much as he could at the li­brary — this was be­fore the in­ter­net age — Craig trav­elled to South Asia to learn more. Our par­ents were hes­i­tant at first, and in­sisted on a chap­eron for the trip, but were un­fail­ingly sup­port­ive of his pas­sion. It’s our ex­pe­ri­ence that ide­al­ism in young peo­ple isn’t a phase — it can be a life­long pur­suit.

We’ve seen that same jour­ney in oth­ers.

Palvi Saini’s fam­ily set­tled in Win­nipeg from In­dia when she was in Grade 3, and her ear­li­est mem­o­ries of Canada are the slurs she faced in school hall­ways. Last year, with a ris­ing tide of Is­lam­o­pho­bia in Canada and U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s travel ban in Amer­ica, she or­ga­nized a march through the city and a rally at the Man­i­toba Leg­is­la­ture.

While hun­dreds at­tended, two were con­spic­u­ously ab­sent: her par­ents.

Not only had they not or­ches­trated the event, they wanted Palvi to fo­cus more on her stud­ies.

It was her ac­tivism, though, that led to a new ca­reer path. Palvi is now study­ing at the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba on her way to be­com­ing a hu­man rights lawyer.

There is a long his­tory of stu­dents de­mand­ing change. It took the courage of nine black teenagers in an all-white school in Lit­tle Rock, Ark., in 1957 to her­ald the end of seg­re­gated ed­u­ca­tion in the U.S. A decade later, thou­sands of Latino stu­dents in Los An­ge­les led El Movimiento to ad­dress racial im­bal­ances in school fund­ing.

In Canada, many of the most pow­er­ful voices bring­ing at­ten­tion to the sui­cide epi­demic among Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties have be­longed to young peo­ple.

Civic en­gage­ment isn’t just bet­ter for so­ci­ety, it’s bet­ter for the in­di­vid­u­als in­volved.

A re­cent study looked at 10,000 young peo­ple from across racial and eco­nomic lines, find­ing that young adults who at­tend ral­lies, vol­un­teer and vote go fur­ther in school and achieve higher in­comes than their non-en­gaged peers. Thou­sands of stu­dents are pre­par­ing for a day of ac­tion de­mand­ing changes to gun laws on April 20, the 19th an­niver­sary of the Columbine high school shoot­ing.

Many par­ents are un­der­stand­ably con­cerned about the im­pact of po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism on their chil­dren.

But these youth ac­tivists are learn­ing to be­come lead­ers. Craig and Marc Kiel­burger are the co-founders of the WE move­ment, which in­cludes WE Char­ity, ME to WE So­cial En­ter­prise and WE Day. For more dis­patches from WE, check out WE Sto­ries at we.org.

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