In my experience as a youth advocate, I have seen the major difference in giving youth ownership of their future.
When you allow youth to speak, think, and plan for themselves and their future, they will surprise you. When creating youth programming, I think it’s always important to ask those that you are working for “How do you want this to look?” I believe a lot of times, as adults, we believe we know the answers and think that we are approaching a situation in the most pragmatic way, but sometimes we miss very crucial points because we are steadfast in doing things our way.
In Chicago, it’s easy to fall victim to the narrative that has been exploited and developed around being low-income and minority citizens here, but the type of resilience and brilliance I have encountered on a daily basis by some of those same individuals is what always amazes me. To be surrounded by stories that claim you will never amount to more than a statistic, but still find a way to keep hope and conjure solutions is exceptional.
For the past couple of years, I have watched the work of the Aspen Challenge and I have seen the gears turning in so many youths that felt invisible or unheard. Programs like the Aspen Challenge present platforms to the youth that are not available in their everyday life. When you are given the opportunity to present solutions and implement them while finding counsel in those who have come before you, then you have entered a circle of success; a circle that creates a much more empathetic and civil future. Who we are today is large in part to who cared about us in the past, knowingly or unknowingly, so the more intentional we are about caring for our youth, and their ideas, the better off we will be as a society in the future.