5 Tips for Youth Leaders on the Front Lines of Advocacy, Change, Justice

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youth leaders: Young female activist staring at the policeman and smiling during a protest.

Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

In America we are young, tired and traumatized. We are tired of validating our space, our existence and the reason why we should have a seat at the table. Youth are continuously ignored, dismissed and unheard. Stereotyping youth as “too young” or “not experienced enough” has been a consistent strategy to devalue the movements that we create.

Youth are dying. Bullets are piercing our skin, the hands of our “protectors” bruise us, while the weight of our own communities burden us with expectations that we, as a future generation, are expected to embrace. 

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Not only do we confront our internalized trauma while witnessing the oppressive realities of our world, we also resist the tendency to reduce youth experiences into pure statistics, devoid of sociopolitical meaning. We know that if we die at the hands of police, justice will not be served within the “justice” system and we will be left as a number to the added list of black and brown bodies whose blood is stained in our streets at the root of America’s issue: racism. We should not have to experience the moments that are supposed to be the cornerstone of our lives in fear and uncertainty.

youth leaders: Grant E. Loveless (headshot), youth advocate, smiling man with short dark hair, black and white patterned shirt

Grant E. Loveless

However, we conjured our power to disrupt the day-to-day uncertainties, disadvantages and injustices. We as youth have blossomed into an impalpable force. Youth advocates like Nahjah and Nashon Wilson in Stafford, Va.; the four women who built the Teens4Equality organization in Nashville, Tenn.; Mical Juliet, Franki Phoenix, Zauvier Fenceroy and myself in Austin, Texas continue to push for public and social policy reform, collaborative change and economic justice. With our efforts being recognized, it is imperative that we continue to prepare youth for what is to come. As Sen. Cory Booker said, “You don’t have to be one of those people that accepts things as they are. Every day, take responsibility for changing them right where you are.”

Below are five tips for youth I have created from my experience as a youth advocate and student leader in Austin to help them begin their journey into advocacy, community activism and social entrepreneurship.

Understand you are your No.1 priority

If you do not take care of yourself, how can you serve others at the best capacity you can? Self-care is about self-reflection and it’s a journey. Learning and establishing a self-care routine does not happen overnight, it takes time. You may be thinking, what does self-care mean? It’s ambiguous. 

Self-care means knowing who you are and understanding your limits; developing a good sleeping pattern and eating habits; constructing ways to decompress and realign your mind, spirit and energy; taking time to know yourself, your goals and how you want to manifest the change-maker you want to be; identifying what you love and hate or what motivates and discourages you. Self-care can be simply defined as self-love, but on the journey to that you first must identify your “why” and thrive.

Find your ‘why’ and your vision

To find your “why” and your vision you must identify your core values, discover who inspires you, who motivates you to be the catalyst of change in your community and understand that your vision takes time to develop and grow. It will change, shift and possibly renew itself over time. 

With developing your “why” and vision, you cannot put your hands in multiple pots, overwhelming and stressing yourself. Take your time and volunteer with local organizations, reach out to community members whose interests align with yours and ask questions or do a journey of self-discovery and read books, articles or blogs to gain knowledge on your interests. Whichever topic you feel touches your soul, start pursuing it. However, you must understand not everyone will agree with your stance nor stand with you when you need support in this journey.

Be aware of who is for you and against you

You will have your allies and opposers in the world of advocacy on your way to achieving justice and change. Not everyone will agree with your values, ideas or your right to have a seat at the table. You must be prepared for that realization and people saying “no” to your cause. 

However, this should never discourage you. Utilize your colleagues, close peers, past and current employers, teachers or anyone who is interested in investing in you and form a community. Once you have a community backing you up, you will be unstoppable. If you are not given a seat at the table, build your own table and create the change you want to see. Your existence does not need validation; you are a force and a resistance.

Time management

Do not overwhelm, stress or burden yourself trying to take advantage of every opportunity and issue damaging your communities. Establish a foundation for your brand and the issues you want to solve in your community as well as using your local community members and organizations to further your goals. 

When you use time managing tools like Trello, Asana, Google Calendar or even the Reminders app on your phone, you can implement strategies for your success regarding how much time you are allocating for the issues you want to solve and the commitments you are going to take on.

You are never alone

You are never alone. Whatever country, state, city or town you live in, there are organizations and individuals who will support, uplift and cherish the work you do. Remember, it doesn’t matter what platform you use, it’s about the work you produce and the presence you create when you walk into a room. You will never be alone; we are here always. 

Use these tips and my words of encouragement to be the change. Start generating the momentum you want to see your community taking in approaching and addressing structures of ageism, racism, xenophobia or any sign of inequity. 

Start now: Write a call-to-action plan. Engage with your communities. Mobilize and create change.

Say and remember their names

Brad Levi Ayala | Cameron Tillman | Carey Smith-Viramontes | Diana Showman | Dillon McGee | Emantic “EJ” Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. | Elijah Tufono | Jeffrey Holden | Joshua Dariandre Ruffin | Justin Howell | Laquan McDonald | Levi Weaver | Roshad McIntosh | Sarah Grossman | Sean Monterrosa | Tamir Rice | VonDerrit Myers Jr. | Zauvier Fenceroy

Grant E. Loveless (they/them) is a native of Austin, Texas and is proud AfroQueer nonbinary youth advocate, social entrepreneur and student leader. They are a junior at Austin Community College planning to transfer to Texas State University to dual major in psychology and public relations.

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