Change can happen
The courage of young people helps us not resign to the way things are
By Sarah Mundell
Two of the many gifts of young people are the conviction that change can happen and the generosity to act immediately. They don’t get bogged down in all the past obstacles. They are not blocked by doubts about how much impact they will have. They don’t stop at wondering if anyone will respond. They begin. They stick their necks out without deliberating possible results. They sacrifice, they lose sleep, they take on extra jobs, they put off homework in the name of change. What leads them is a passion to help others, to serve their communities near and far, to prevent bad things continuing to happen to others, to people they care about.
In these last months, we’ve been reminded how the courage of a small group of teenagers can light a spark and get the masses moving and talking.
Survivors of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, used their youthful passion to quickly spread the message: no more gun violence at schools. They helped one another reach out on various media platforms with their message that this must never happen again, sparking the #NeverAgain movement and the March for Our Lives on March 24, which involved at least 450 sites around the U.S. and even abroad, involving at least 1.2 million people. The Washington rally was possibly one of the biggest since the Vietnam War.
Why did youth participate? Some were saddened, some were angry, some felt empowered by the Parkland students’ determination to speak out for their fallen classmates.
Emma Cedaño, 12, who lives just 20 minutes from Parkland, hopes that adults will listen to young people and realize that they will bring positive change in regards to gun violence. How did people react to her participation? “A mother stopped me and said, ‘Thank you. My daughter was afraid to go to school, but now that she’s seen you, she’s not afraid anymore,’” said Emma. “I felt proud at that moment that I had inspired a little girl, but at the same time I felt sadness. No child should have to be afraid to go to school fearing for their life, wondering if they are going to make it home at the end of the day.”
Clarissa Russenburger helped organize her school’s National School Walkout in Michigan: “When I first heard about the Parkland shooting, I didn’t think too much of it. In all honesty, I feel like I have become so desensitized to mass shooting… However, I realized that if I want change, I have to be the one to initiate it,” she said.
Clarissa joined the team that organized a school-wide prayer service, a voluntary walk-out where all but 20 students participated, and — important to them — a portion of the walkout dedicated to inspiring action: encouraging students and administrators to get involved in things like voting and other community activities.
While teenagers have gotten more attention recently, there are many other ways they have been getting involved to speak out for causes they believe in.
Less than one month before the Parkland shooting, an estimated 100,000 people of all ages went to Washington for the March for Life, commemorating the 45th year since the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal in the U.S. The annual rally speaks out especially against the killing of some 60 million unborn children since the 1973 court decision, but also sheds light on euthanasia and disability rights.
Each year many of the marchers are high school and college-age students, and this year was the first time that a sitting president addressed marchers through live-stream video.
Megan Walters, 17, from Naperville, IL participates in her local pro-life movement. Since she was six she has accompanied her mother to pray outside abortion clinics and couldn’t wait to go to her first March for Life in Washington. She gets mixed reactions of support and rejection, so when people disagree with her, she tries to talk with them and explain her views.
The internet allows the spreading of positive youth initiatives. For example, the Food Recovery Network is a student-led movement against food waste and hunger in the U.S. It began in 2011 at the University of Maryland and has spread to 230 universities, partnering with more than 300 agencies including food pantries, soup kitchens, places of worship, senior centers and more. The network has recovered more than 2.5 million pounds of food for those who need it most.
Various sites also involve youth in starting projects of their own. Dosomething.org and Startasnowball.com are two of these sites. While both were begun by adults, it is the youth who are the protagonists.
Some of these projects are small, but all are significant: they confirm that change can only happen if each of us takes action, no matter the age. And these days the youth are really taking the lead.
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