The news doesn’t generally tell us is how excellent youth today are. Despite the pressures of a crumbling economy and failing social safety net, more than ever, youth are thriving. From my experience and research traveling the nation, I have directly observed that civic engagement, volunteering, community action, and social change led by young people are soaring. I’m not simply talking about those kids either: Instead, there’s a rampant movement afoot across our nation to engage all young people in changing the world.
Allegheny County is no exception. Across the area, there are countless youth working with adults to make their neighborhoods, the whole area, and our entire world a better place. One excellent example is Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG). This nationally recognized multi-generational mentoring program fosters leadership skills, a sense of female community, and a commitment to service among three generations: elementary-school girls, undergraduate women, and professional women. Another is Unified for Youth in Pittsburgh (U4Y). An annual conference boasting over 70 participants, U4Y is the only conference of its kind in Pittsburgh, bringing together youth, adult allies and educators for two days of safe schools training in LGBT issues.
Powerful activities like these serve as role models for other organizations and communities throughout Allegheny. They also change the narrative about youth by forcing the media to see young people in Pittsburgh as powerful contributors to making the world a better place.
Other examples come from the City of Pittsburgh Mayor’s Youth Council. Their goal is to serve as a liaison between youth and the Youth Commission on issues affecting youth. The Council encourages the positive growth and development of young people by involving them in social, cultural, recreational and other drug and alcohol-free activities. Upon request of the Mayor or City Council, the Youth Council shall provide advice and assistance on matters concerning the needs of youth from the perspective of young people.
When NAACP President Benjamin Jealous recently spoke in downtown Pittsburgh, he challenged young people to see that groups of committed, principled people can always overcome organized money. So many examples throughout Allegheny County demonstrate exactly how that’s happening, especially because youth are partners.
A faith-based community in the region that focuses on seeing youth past the news is called the Pittsburgh Youth Cluster with Adults, or PYCA. This effort of the Unitarian Universalists focuses on building an interdependent web of youth in the greater Pittsburgh area (hereafter referred to as the Cluster) through spiritual, social action, and community building activities. They say, “We are youth organizing youth!”
Congratulations Pittsburgh- you’re beginning to see youth past the news. Keep it going!