youth on a mountain

Opinion

A Summer of Connection

TYCELY WILLIAMS

Like most Americans, I love treasured summer traditions. Beginning on the Fourth of July, I wrap as much fun, food, and fireworks in red, white, and blue as creatively possible. With vaccination rates increasing and COVID infection rates decreasing, seasonal cookouts, barbeques, and picnics will once again inspire lively multi-generational outdoor celebrations.

On the heels of witnessing Juneteenth become a federal holiday, I was reminded that with appropriate sensitivities, federal observances can provide excellent pathways to gain a deeper understanding of the often overlooked and unfamiliar lived experiences of young people.

Before joining America’s Promise Alliance as the Chief Development Officer, during my tenure, and as I transition from a full-time employee to a committed volunteer, I was and will always be intentional in actively seeking ways to hear directly from young people.

Last week, America’s Promise Alliance released Where Do We Go Next: Youth Insights on the High School Experience During a Year of Historic Upheaval,” which spotlights findings from a national survey of more than 2,400 high school students.

In short, the report shares that young people have experienced significant disconnection across multiple relationships—including with adults outside of their families. This summer has the potential to be a summer of reconnection—an opportune time for the young people on your block and in every corner of your community to forge meaningful relationships with caring adults.

No Need to Sign-Up. Just Show Up!

Holidays can be a “day off” and a “day on.” As you gear up to start your summer sizzle and commemorate the passage of the Declaration of Independence, will you also celebrate our nationhood by showing a young person in your family or community that you care? No need to sign-up; just show up as a compassionate adult with genuine interest in and a real concern for their humanity.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are rights we espouse to protect for all humans—even the youngest among us. Holidays such as Independence Day offer a fun and festive opportunity for you to initiate, check in on, and settle into a conversation with fellow Americans of all ages.

Throughout the summer, whether you’re showing up for casual communal gatherings or dropping into the office a few hours during the week, you can brighten a young person’s outlook and ensure they feel seen, understood, and respected in the community, at school, and at work.

“I have worked numerous jobs for numerous employers—from large corporations to small, family-owned businesses—and I can tell you that in these roles I have never really felt seen,” shares Deshaun Rice, Associate of America’s Promise Alliance, in a recent Forbes article. “Maybe because I am a Black man, or because I don’t have my degree yet, or simply because I am “young” and “inexperienced.”

We must see and respect young people like Deshaun—from the neighborhood holiday picnic to our places of business. One simple way to show up as a caring adult over the summer and beyond is to converse with a young person in a culturally competent manner. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a member of America’s Promise Alliance, “when speaking with young people, remember the importance of listening. As topics arise, ask if the young person has questions. Your responses should satisfy their intrigue and expand their interest.”

Listen Up. Then, Raise Them Up!

All young people—elementary, high school, and beyond—have experienced stress and strain because of the historic upheavals of this past year. This summer, create space for young people to share how they are making a positive difference in their own lives and in the lives of others. As you listen to young people, gain insights on how they cared for themselves, and enabled others to thrive, and be sure to applaud their acts of bravery and affirm their abilities to remain resilient. Honor the patriots of our past and also rightfully recognize the contributions young people make every day in America.

As you listen up to raise them up, keep in mind that summer’s casual moments of connection may create comfortable and safe spaces. You may find yourself in conversation with a young person who requires emotional, psychological, financial, or physical supports. In some instances, your compassion alone may not be sufficient. As a caring adult, you are not expected to have all the answers or be able to solve all the problems. Center your compassion, connections, and life experiences to refer the young person to reputable sources. Pivotal Ventures has started a helpful listing of digital and phone mental health supports.

Lift Up the Benefits of Service.

Helping people is the American way. As you celebrate the rich legacy of our beloved country, encourage young people to engage in service learning. According to the Mayo Clinic Health System, “Volunteering decreases the risk of depression, gives a sense of purpose, teaches valuable skills, maintains physical and mental activity, reduces stress levels, helps people live longer, and helps with the formation of new relationships.”

For young people ages 13-19, America’s Promise Alliance through the generosity of The AllState Foundation, is awarding $250 mini-grants to create pathways for young people to meet a community need this summer related to racial healing. As a caring adult, when you share this information with young people in your family and local community, you are also encouraging them to help themselves while simultaneously helping others. I view the celebration of our independence and self-reliance also as a collective recognition that every American, of any age, is interconnected with others. For more than 245 years, we’ve fought, petitioned, and advocated to become and remain the United States of America.

During my tenure at America’s Promise Alliance, young people have taught me one meaningful way to value unity is to think and act in more inclusive ways when celebrating with family and when grinding it out at work. Through their example, I’ve learned there is ample space for every American to celebrate independence on Juneteenth and Fourth of July. I’ve also learned we must carry the pride we have in our country and daily couple it with civility and courtesy.

We must uphold the promises of America by seeing, respecting, and conversing with young people like Deshaun. This summer, please take the time to be a caring adult and kindly engage with a young person. This Fourth of July will be different than last year’s for many people and for many reasons. For me, I will no longer be the Chief Development Officer of America’s Promise Alliance but the lessons I’ve learned from young people and the knowledge I’ve gained about how best to support them, I’ll carry everywhere I go—starting with the upcoming backyard barbeque that will present the perfect pathway for connecting with an inspiring young person.