There is a buzz today about “Youth Civic Engagement” – it’s the theme of the United Nations International Youth Day which is celebrated annually on August 12th. The day, regardless of the annual theme, is an event aimed at celebrating the contributions of young people, as well as the initiatives which support positive youth development and empowerment.
The recent interest (as the UN views it) in youth civic engagement somehow suggests something novel about youth contribution. Indeed, a lot of the narrative on “youth” has been negative in the past decade – focusing on the challenges of being young and the problems youth create for societies (read as crime and violence, sexually transmitted diseases). The latter focus does a disservice to the long history of volunteerism and social action by young people all over the world. For me, growing up in Jamaica and the United Kingdom, “giving back”, “getting involved” and “changing peoples lives” were not considered novelties for youth – it was expected of young people. Whether through church, school or community groups, young people were actively encouraged to engage in whatever was happening. (I don’t ignore the fact that levels and spheres of engagement may have varied widely). I only want to acknowledge that many social movements and organisations around the world were initiated by and advanced through the innovation of young people. Unfortunately, some of these movements and organisations have evolved into systematically youth-exclusionary frameworks and the history of youth contribution has been erased. (I am thinking, as I write this, about a recent post by John Rapley on brixtonsubversity which notes the youth civic history of football clubs).
How curious, then that international organisations and governments should only “recently” become interested in youth civic engagement! I suppose though, that the opportunity presented by this IYD’s theme, is to acknowledge, recognise and demonstrate the youth civic engagement which continues today – in the background – but still influential.
Happy International #YouthDay and I hope you will all take advantage of the opportunity to show people how you contribute and encourage others to press on for positive change.