When it comes to many social justice causes — such as LGBTQ rights, feminism, racial equality, and economic justice — youth are typically discouraged from speaking out and leading movements. Even historically, the majority of progressive movements were led by older individuals who supposedly had more wisdom and experience than their younger counterparts.
However, the truth is, excluding youth from holding positions of leadership and power in social justice movements means preventing youth from using their own personal stories, passions, and experiences to bring about change in their communities.
The success of recent social justice movements has proven the strength and vitality of youth-led advocacy. For instance, the gun violence prevention movement has garnered national support and attention and is often led by survivors of school shootings. The Black Lives Matter movement has already seen countless Black youth come forward and share their stories, amplify their voices, and use their impact to bring about necessary systemic change.
More often than not, when youth take their first plunge into the realm of social justice and activism, they’re left feeling confused and alone. Many major non-profits, which are also typically headed by adults, dominate the sphere and make it difficult for youth to start their own grassroots community organizations. The majority of resources and funding is allocated to bigger organizations, while smaller movements that youth often lead are seriously neglected.
Personally, starting two organizations on my own — spectrum, an online platform for the LGBTQ community, and WISH, a community organization that advocates for women’s rights by hosting free summer camps and mentorships for underprivileged middle school girls — has been a difficult process. It’s hard to find the support and community that you need to be successful when many people look down upon you and the work that you do just because of your age.
Many grants and funding opportunities are often limited to registered non-profits, so smaller community organizations have a harder time finding the funding they need for the work that they do. People will often comment about you taking things too seriously, or tell you to focus on other things that are supposedly more important, such as schoolwork. Many people also refuse to see youth leaders, such as myself, as valid authorities, which means that many youth-led organizations just aren’t taken seriously.
However, things have begun to change. Social media, which is a powerful tool for bringing about change, has allowed youth to easily share resources with one another and collaborate on the projects that they’re passionate about. And although many adults still doubt the value of youth voices and movements, the attitude of society has slowly but surely has begun to shift. Soon, social justice will be seen as an open and viable option for youth to get involved in, and will allow them to do what they’re truly passionate about without feeling judged, isolated, or scorned.
Until then, the fight against ageism continues.
Aarushi Pant is Co-Lead of Fundraising and Merchandise at NYRA.