In early June, more than 200 young people met in Menlo Park, California for a first-of-its-kind summit to send a strong message to national nonprofit and corporate leaders: We need you to hear us, and we want leadership opportunities and real partnership to address the challenges facing our generation. Sponsored and hosted by America’s Promise Alliance and Facebook Education, the State of Young People Summit—led by youth leaders aged 12 to 25—served as the launchpad for a yearlong initiative where youth leaders will work side-by-side with adults to create authentic leadership opportunities for young people to engage and take action in bold ways on a variety of issues. The following blog posts by young leaders capture some of their reflections and ideas in the aftermath of the Summit.
A few days ago, I had the honor of being part of the State of Young People Summit. This was an amazing, dynamic event that brought together a diverse group of young people and allowed us to voice our concerns around important issues. It was truly inspiring to see students of all ages, not only identifying problems, but using their voices to courageously speak out on these issues. There was one quality, however, that stood out to me throughout the event. There was a constant spirit of resilience.
I felt resilience when I sat on stage, sharing my story of losing my hair at 12 years old. I talked about how the bullying got so bad, that every day I would clean gum out of my wig. I talked about my battles with mental illness, and the days that I couldn’t get out of bed because I did not feel beautiful enough or worthy enough to live.
I saw resilience when I heard the story of Jordan Reeves. She was born with only part of her left arm. Instead of viewing this as a disability, she realizes her power, celebrating what makes her different and sharing this message with others.
I understood resilience when I looked out into the room. I saw young people of every background who had overcome unbelievable odds. Every person in that room had a story and experienced some kind of struggle, but we were able to put that on pause for a weekend as we spoke of hope, persistence, and moving forward.
When you feel, see, and understand this spirit of resilience, problems that often feel overwhelming begin to seem more manageable. Resilience to me means the idea that a situation could have so much darkness that it comes close to breaking you, but you decide to move forward and see the light anyway. Every individual left the State of Young People feeling empowered to bring more light into the world, starting with their communities.
During my years of working with K-12 campuses through the Love Your Natural Self Foundation, I’ve found that young people often have a way of remaining optimistic, even when faced with extreme adversity. They see the world not as it is, but as it should be. They come up with creative and innovative solutions to address some of the world’s most difficult problems. And while some may say young people are overly optimistic, naïve, or don’t fully understand, I believe that nothing is more important than investing in this spirit of resilience.
For this reason, I believe the voices of young people need to continue to be elevated. At State of Young People, I met many young people who had never previously been given a voice. For some of them, it was their first time getting on a plane and their first opportunity to be heard. I am so grateful for this event because the world needs to hear these stories of optimism, courage, and resilience. Optimism is contagious. Strength is contagious. Resilience is contagious. The State of Young People made that clear, as each individual made a tangible commitment to go back to their communities and do more.
As I left California and flew back to D.C., reality began to settle in. I was no longer in the fun, energetic, and positive environment that State of Young People provided. However, I keep my commitment close to my heart, and I think about all of the connections I’ve made this weekend. I am reminded that there are thousands of young people, stories untold, each one with this same powerful spirit. The State of Young People made it clear that it’s time to invest in young people, tell their stories, and move towards a more resilient world.