Today I’m live-blogging from Miami, where the Human Services Coalition of Miami-Dade County, aka Catalyst Miami, has brought me in to facilitate a day long seminar on Meaningful Youth Engagement. I arrived at the agency’s headquarters about a half hour ago, and it’s a typically powerful environment filled with busy, passionate people doing spectacularly important and vibrant work. From all indications so far, a focus on Meaningful Youth Engagement appears to fit well within Catalyst Miami’s programs. That they’re welcoming 150+ folks from dozens of agencies tomorrow speaks higher still of their capacity and commitment.
(Sidenote: I’m a little tired! Red-eye flights used to make so much sense to me; I’m rethinking that right now!)
In my next post I’ll share my agenda for the training. But for now, this thought will have to suffice: In talking with Dana Bennis from the Institute for Democratic Education in America last month, I (finally) crystalized my understanding about solely change-oriented engagement activities for youth: By creating special programs focused only on change we effectively except organizations and communities from normalizing youth engagement; we excuse ourselves from integrating young people into the leadership of the world we co-occupy with them.
My concern is that while this type of “exceptionalism” may be appropriate to meet the apparent developmental needs of youth, it doesn’t meet the less-obvious but equally important evolutionary requirements of young people. All children and youth inherently want to be actively integrated into the lifeblood of their families and communities. This is why they repel against tokenism so severely when they learn about it: Young people don’t want to be routinely segregated from adults.
So my question is whether youth-only programming focused on engagement is unquestionably self-defeating and ultimately ineffectual. I’m going to explore this tomorrow with my co-learners… Stay tuned for the results!