Young Leaders: We Need a Thousand Parkland Movements to Create the Change We Want to See in the World

Youth Service America Celebrates 30 Years of Global Youth Service Day

In celebration of 30 years of Youth Service America's Global Youth Service Day, the following is an open letter from YSA Youth Leaders to young people around the world to encourage them to create the change they want to see in the world.

Three weeks ago – 19 years after the horrific shooting at Columbine High School – thousands of students across the country walked out of class to honor those who have lost their lives to gun violence and to push for common-sense gun laws. The National School Walkout was the latest in a number of youth-led actions around gun violence since the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Spurred by the tenacity of the Parkland students, young people are leading walkouts, marches, town halls and going toe-to-toe with policymakers to make schools and communities safer for all students.

We need a thousand Parkland movements - addressing every pressing issue facing our generation from climate change and hunger to health care and access to education, and absolutely, to gun control - to create the change we want to see in the world.

Katie Stagliano, Sean Russell and Sid Verma, YSA Youth Leaders

As young people not much older than the Parkland activists, we are energized and inspired by what our peers are accomplishing so far. But it’s not enough.

We need a thousand Parkland movements – addressing every pressing issue facing our generation from climate change and hunger to health care and access to education, and absolutely, to gun control – to create the change we want to see in the world.

This is where we are dedicating our young lives. We were first turned-on to our own power through Youth Service America’s Global Youth Service Day (GYSD). GYSD recognizes that all it takes for young people to become changemakers is a spark – the feeling that comes when you do something that has a positive impact on the people around you. Given the right opportunities and adult champions, that spark can light a fire within the hearts and minds of other young people – inspiring people like us to pursue an adolescence, and lifetime, of service and activism.

In our own personal ways, we realized at a young age that we could have a hand in making a better world possible. Katie started when she was only nine years old and grew a 40-pound cabbage in her backyard to donate to a local soup kitchen; a vegetable that ended up feeding over 275 people. Encouraged, she started Katie’s Krops, a nonprofit that supports kid-run vegetable gardens and donates the harvest to hungry people.

Sean is driven by a love for the sea. After taking part in an ocean education program as a kid, he formed his own club to raise awareness about issues facing our oceans and marine life. He now hosts the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit, an event that brings together hundreds of youth from around the country to learn from scientists and to develop their own marine conservation projects.

Sid caught the community-service bug from his older brother. Together, they co-founded MDJunior to help end healthcare disparities at home in Atlanta and around the world. They recently took a group of 25 youth volunteers to support local residents at medical camps in rural India.  

Although we work on different issues and are separated by thousands of miles, we are connected through the Youth Service America network, alongside millions of other young people in over 100 countries who make a difference in their communities 365 days a year.

Young people have always played a pivotal role in social change, here in the U.S. and around the globe. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, they helped integrate public schools and businesses, changed voting laws and fought for equality for women. More recently, youth are at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement, while Dreamers lead the fight for immigrant rights. Then and now, these young people have two things in common: the determination to do what is right and a willingness to put their ideas and actions forward as important contributions to making the world kinder, greener, safer, fairer and stronger.

To be sure, young people can’t do it alone. As the Parkland students appreciate, strong allies are critical. Whether you’re fighting to end climate change, stigma towards mental illness or homelessness, collaboration is key. The #NeverAgain movement also highlights the power of inclusive public events in driving meaningful change. From marches to open mics to pop-up farmers markets in under-resourced communities, bringing people together across racial, economic and political divides leads to more equitable and sustainable movements. More than anything, the youth-led movement around gun violence prevention shows that young people listen to and follow other young people more than they do adults. We must share our stories so we can inspire our peers to get involved.

If you’re a young person who sees a problem in your community and wants to do something about it, we encourage you to step up and join in. You’re never too young to get involved and make an impact. As a young person, you possess unique perspectives, energy and creativity to develop solutions that the world needs. Together, we can build a thousand youth-led movements like #NeverAgain to create a better world for young people and our families around the globe.

To learn more about how you can become a youth leader, visit www.LeadASAP.YSA.org.

About the Authors

Katie Stagliano is the founder of Katie’s Krops, a nonprofit that plants kid-run vegetable gardens and donates the harvest to feed people in need. In partnership with YSA and Change My World Now, Katie’s Krops recently launched an interactive game to help students form a deep connection to the issue of hunger. The game is now available on the Apple app store. Katie is a rising freshman at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.

Sean Russell is the founder and director of the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit, an annual event held at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida. Since graduating from the University of Florida in 2013 with a Bachelor’s degree in biology, Sean has worked with a diverse set of corporations, government agencies and nonprofit organizations to elevate the role of youth leadership in the fields of marine science, education and conservation. He is now the program manager for the EarthEcho Water Challenge.

Sid Verma is the co-founder and chief of global operations of MDJunior, a nonprofit that brings together high school and college students to build community solutions to address health disparities. In honor of GYSD, he led a week-long project in rural India with 25 youth from the U.S., Hong Kong and India. Youth participants supported local residents at medical camps and participated in other public health projects. Born in Atlanta, Sid is now a junior at Hong Kong International School in Hong Kong.  

About Youth Service America

Founded in 1986, YSA is a nonprofit organization that supports youth to learn the skills they need to find their voice, take action, and have impact on critical challenges facing their communities. To measure its global impact in more than 100 countries, YSA aligns its outcomes with the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the 21st Century Skills. YSA’s program model activates youth through campaigns like Global Youth Service Day and ServiceVote, funds youth-led projects with YSA Grants, trains them to become powerful leaders in their community and recognizes their accomplishments through awards, storytelling and visibility campaigns. To learn more, visit www.YSA.org.

Source: Youth Service America

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Tags: leadership, Parkland, social change, youth


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Youth Service America (YSA) is a leading global nonprofit that activates young people, ages 5-25, to #LeadASAP by finding their voice, taking action, and making an impact on vital community issues.

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