By Elke Hautala
On April 20, 2018, many students all over the U.S. walked out of their classrooms in protest. Some were honoring the memory of those who died in the Columbine High School shooting on its anniversary. Some were hoping to create a seismic shift in the epidemic of gun violence. Some were seeking to bring attention to a cycle of ongoing violent crime in their inner-city neighborhood. All of them made an active decision to stand up for something they believe in.
How did such a large cross-section of students organize? Communication and social media backed by technology.
These are the young people coming of age in a world revolutionized by digital technology. Children are pretty much born into using devices nowadays. Just ask their grandparents. There is an intuitive sense of understanding that comes from familiarity and moves them beyond the learning curve.
I was recently told about a study that proved young people could discern emotions from subtleties in phrasing and style when reading texts on a device. Despite the adage that you can’t impart emotional understanding unless you’re face to face, those who’ve grown up using this “language” system have created their own nuanced way of connecting with each other.
It’s no surprise then that young people have not only embraced tech but they have applied it to create change with great success. If you’ve read the news recently you’ve undoubtedly heard much about youth activism.
From spreading the word on the importance of voting to social media campaigns against gun violence to collective organization through marches. Everyone who was protesting in the 1960s may recognize this desire for progress with a different methodology for rallying the people.
Companies large and small are supporting these movements in a variety of innovative ways. Comcast/NBC Universal has mentors aboard the Millennial Train Project – a unique mix of old school transportation and new school innovation with the goal of fostering new ideas and empowering diverse groups of young people. Celebrities have even gotten involved with worldwide events such as WE Day. Students earn free attendance by working on the local or global causes they are passionate about.
“Only through action do words take meaning.”
That’s the motto of the Freechild Institute an educational organization based in Western Washington State that seeks to empower young people and adult advocates through “engaging, interactive workshops, key notes and retreats.”
I spoke with Co-Founder Adam FC Fletcher who started the group in September 2001 as a response to the devastating events that occurred that month.
It may feel like a new movement but Adam tells me that “youth activism has actually been happening since the 1870s”. His organization has its roots in the mid-20th Century Civil Rights movement. Adam’s mentors were active in that era. It has been a powerfully personal journey for him.
“I experienced family homelessness with a father who was a Vietnam vet.” Adam says. “Luckily, I had mentors who guided me towards community engagement.”
These early experiences helped him see beyond himself and fostered his goal for creating “positive, powerful action that helps others.”
Technology has intersected with activism from the beginning since you need ways to inform, educate and gather people for any movement to be successful. Now, instead of leaflets from a printing press we use data, social media and devices.
Adam tells me that the collaboration between tech and his organization has been constantly evolving with the changing times. In 2001, he says it was all about teaching youth how to code or build websites.
“Today, digital literacy is about consumption. Using machines more effectively in terms of our use as consumers to change the world and not just being a passive participant,” Adam continued.
Freechild is helping young people not only discover the voice and opinions that they’ve had all along but they are showing them how to use their devices in a meaningful way.
Their goals for 2018 are about longevity and continuity. More youth are realizing that they can have a positive impact but Freechild realizes it needs to be a lasting impact as well. Whether it’s voting rights, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, LGBTQ rights, gun violence or one of the other important socio-political causes in need of support. Adams says they want to “translate moments of youth engagement into lifetimes and generations of youth engagement.”
What about individual impact within a group movement?
Adam has the perfect example of how this type of engagement can not only reach people on the personal level but also spread across the globe.
In 2015, Young Ho Kim, a budding filmmaker, was a Youth Mentor at Freechild’s Youth Media Camp. There, he was a part of teaching others about tech, production and media creation. It made such an impact on him that he went back to his home in South Korea. He started a similar program to in turn give the knowledge and skills he had to others so that they could also make a difference.
It’s an ongoing positive cycle that can have a life-changing impact on multiple generations.
I asked Adam one final question about whether Freechild was involved with any of the protests going on today. He said they were helping behind the scenes. They are like a team backing those on the front lines with the education, tools and understanding they need to bring positive change.
He added, “We’re in the supporting role, it’s the young people in the front.”
For more information on Freechild Institute visit here.
Look up how you can be involved in WE Day here.
Find out more about the Millennial Train Project here.