I was presenting at a conference in Arkansas a few weeks ago when a guy came up to me and introduced himself. After telling me that he subscribe to Freechild and had downloaded all of my publications and being very appreciative, he very sincerely said, “You are the best youth speaker in the world.”
I couldn’t help but think, “What do you mean ‘youth’?” That’s like saying you’re the best woman speaker, or best African American speaker. There is a constant ghetto-ization of this work, and I am just not sure what to do with that.
For a long time I avoided any talk of “youth voice” for that very reason: We cannot and do not represent any one given characteristic of ourselves at any one given time. Any youth is also the product of her community, his school, their race, our society; but moreso than that, every youth is more than any of that!
We don’t usually see it, but we have to start looking. Young people need to investigate youth and adults’ perspectives of their voices. Youth and adults need to examine the differences in their perspectives on power and authority. We need to explore the differences between legitimate and tokenized youth voice. I need to identify youth who will mentor me to help CommonAction, The Freechild Project, and SoundOut stay grounded. There are so many nuances to this work – and ghettoizing young people is the last thing any of us should do.