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Monday, July 17, 2017
MEDIA MONDAY / HARNESSING THE POWER OF THE YOUNG
GUEST BLOG / By Tim
Haydock, a New America CA fellow and director of YouthWire, a project of New
America Media--In the fall of 2015, Jocelyn Cuevas, 17, was doing what
she did every day: walking her younger siblings to school in her Rexland Acres
neighborhood in rural Kern County, California.
walked these same paths to go to the store, to the bus stop, to the park, and
anywhere else she needed to go. She saw friends walking, mothers pushing
strollers, other children also going to school.
car-obsessed California, this picture isn’t unlike other suburban
neighborhoods, where walking is still important for residents, especially young
people. But one thing was different: Jocelyn and her neighbors were walking on
dirt. The lack of sidewalks presented Jocelyn and her neighbors with problems.
rained, it was muddy, when it was dry, there was dust in the air. The
conditions made it unsafe to walk near traffic as they made their essential
are multiplied by the fact that Jocelyn’s area already has some of the worst
air quality in the nation and suffers from high rates of asthma, like much of
the Central Valley of California. Indeed, according to a recent Quartz article,
“a combination of unfortunate topography, a large population, and the realities
of worsening climate change makes California cities some of the worst places to
breathe air in America.” Bakersfield, located just north of Kern County,
happens to be the second most-polluted metropolitan region in the country
(measured by average year-round concentration of particulate matter).
So how can
these communities address the ballooning dangers of pollution? For one: by
harnessing the power of young people.
wanted to walk, jog, and bike in her neighborhood safely—and she saw that
sidewalks would be one way to do this. Tired of the fact that her neighborhood
was often forgotten and under-serviced, she wrote about her experience for
South Kern Sol, a youth media organization that is part of the YouthWire
network. (Disclosure: I’m the director of YouthWire.)
she wrote her first piece, other advocacy groups in the area began working on
the issue—and Jocelyn was in the middle of it all. In December of 2016, it was
announced that $6 million would be going to Rexland Acres to improve street
safety. By the time Jocelyn’s siblings are her age, they’ll walk on sidewalks.
sidewalks and pollution speak to a larger narrative of, and need for, putting
young people at the helm of addressing some of our country’s most pressing
people? Generally, adults don’t consult young people on issues that directly
affect them—at least in part because young people aren’t often thought of as
assets. But they must be if we want to build the sorts of communities that can
take on the myriad problems our country continues to face, like rising
inequality and educational failure.
stretches beyond mere calls for youth inclusion, itself certainly important.
The future health of our citizenry is also at stake. According to KidsData, a
program that spotlights the well-being of children in California through local
data, California has a disengaged youth rate of 7.7 percent. This measures the
number of teens between ages 16 and 19 who are neither in school nor have a
job. In many areas of the state, especially sites where YouthWire has programs,
the numbers increase. For instance, in Kern County, where Jocelyn is from, the
number is 11.1 percent.
And this is
an issue that hurts us all. The cost of disconnected youth to taxpayers is
estimated at $93 million annually. Beyond the lost tax revenue and cost of
social services, researchers have found that disconnected young people face a
harder path to stable relationships, employment later in life, and a sense of
purpose. These disconnected youth can easily become disconnected adults, shut
out from contributing to their communities.
these numbers aren’t equally distributed. The parts of the state that have
carried the heaviest economic burden of unemployment and foreclosures, and that
have more migrant Latino and black families, have a higher concentration of
doesn’t have to be this way. In my hometown of Fresno, youth advocates created
a City Youth Commission last year, which secured paid internships for 30 young
people this summer. This sort of investment is needed on a systemic, statewide
level (much like the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth).
for the Study of Social Policy has shown that engaging young people in the
civic process earlier in their life encourages more consistent voting later on,
provides a chance for collaboration and decision-making, and opens up academic
and professional opportunities.
change, however, this engagement must be authentic and meaningful. Adults and
leaders can’t tokenize young people in order to win votes or score political
points with their constituencies. Rather, what’s needed are partnerships that
value young people for the expertise and potential they may bring and cultivate
a sense of ownership over and responsibility in solving the tasks at hand.
take time and work, and it will require changing the way we do things. But we
have everything to gain from trying: With greater numbers of people not
trusting government, with low youth voter turnouts, and with disengaged youth
numbers so high, it’s clear that what we’re currently doing isn’t working.
It’s time to
include young people. Their future—and ours, too—may depend on it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tim Haydock is the director of
YouthWire, a project of New America Media. YouthWireis a network of five youth
media hubs across California and the only statewide network of youth media hubs
in the country. YouthWire produces youth-led community journalism in media
deserts, trains underserved youth in media skills and encourages civic
engagement in disenfranchised communities.
Haydock's leadership, YouthWire published 300 stories to the web and printed
over 125,000 copies of print publications that were distributed by daily
newspapers across California in 2016. Haydock frequently speaks to groups across
California about the power of storytelling in social justice work, the
possibilities for civic engagement through youth media, and best practices for
working with youth.
taught media studies and production at California State University, Fresno and
Fresno Pacific University, where he also served as faculty advisor to the
student newspaper. He is on the Journalism Advisory Board for Fresno City
College, an associate editor of the Pacific Journal and an adult ally with
Fresno Boys and Men of Color. Tim graduated from Fresno Pacific University with
a degree in communication and holds a Master’s degree from Fuller Theological
Seminary where he studied the intersection of theology and media studies while
running the campus arts group.
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