What youth program these days does not claim to be in the business of youth empowerment? But if you pay attention to what’s actually baked into the DNA of a program, you will get a firmer grasp of an organization’s particular definition of youth empowerment, and you’ll come to understand that although we may be using the same words, we’re definitely not all speaking the same language. To be a little Gertrude Stein about it, there is empowerment, and there is empowerment.
Some programs, for example, facilitate social mobility by guiding their youth through a very structured system of educational, vocational, or professional attainment. Other programs, by contrast, encourage the unique expression of each human being to unfold in a more dynamic, if sometimes messy, fashion.
There is a time and place for both approaches, and no doubt we could list other program models and tease out additional definitions of youth empowerment (advocacy work in relation to cultivating youth voice, for example, springs immediately to mind).
So here’s a challenge: Make a list of different aspects of youth empowerment, and consider each item on that list. What definition of empowerment do you resonate with? I’m not in it for the argument, or to defend one as better than the other. These days I’m less interested in hearing the why than in how you determine what’s true for yourself.
We’re so used to turning to our minds for answers, but what if we let our bodies in on this process? What if we were to sit with this exercise and turn deep within for the answer: not to the mind, but to the heart, or whatever spot in your body you identify as the deepest seat of your Self. What questions, doubts, and insights bubble up when we consider different aspects of youth empowerment? Where do we feel truth resonate, where do we feel resistance?
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this aspect of youth work: the “truths” that we consider so sacred, but take little time to really grapple with because there’s so much else to get to—meetings, phone calls, paperwork, emergencies. But the cost of going about our business as usual is much too high, and I’d like to invite my colleagues to come to greater clarity about their truth in order bring their work into deeper alignment with it.
Minds On Fire, from the start, has been dedicated to approaching this work with as much self reflection as possible, and I design all my workshops in the conviction that what’s good for my young people is good for the adults who serve them, myself included. In its next growth phase, Minds On Fire will be making these foundational principles more explicit by offering programs and services to youth-serving professionals who are interested in working from a powerful place of authenticity, compassion, and self-care.