Solidarity Forever: Why You Should Sign Our Youth Advisory Board’s Solidarity Statement

At YTH Live 2018, the panel of young leaders that make up our Youth Advisory Board introduced their latest effort in youth activism, the YAB Solidarity Statement.

Coming on the heels of the devastating Parkland school shooting, as well as, the student movement that has resulted from the impact of gun violence around the United States, this solidarity statement is meant to both provoke change and inspire others to get involved. For both adults and young people alike, the opportunity for action can’t be overlooked. Therefore, this is the perfect time for such a statement to not only be released, but to be uplifted.

We, as the Youth Advisory Board of Youth Tech Health, wish to express our deepest solidarity to all young people whose rights and wellbeing are being threatened at this time, including youth of color, LGBTQI youth, undocumented youth, and Muslim youth, as well as all those affected by the gun violence epidemic.

Following in the footstep of the fierce legacy of youth led movements in United States and abroad, we are proud to see this tradition live on, and we honor the contributions of all of the unsung heroes who have been long engaged in this work, often predating the current political climate. We support the calls to action concerning policy that protects and empowers young people. In light of recent attacks on healthcare accessibility, harmful national dialogue on mental health, and the discriminatory exclusion of the many individuals who we struggle to reach as we strive towards justice, the YAB remains committed to uplifting the diverse experiences and voices of young people to achieve greater equity nationwide.

We are inspired and motivated by each and every individual who is joining local and national movements towards change and voicing their concerns for the safety and future of our country. From grassroots organizing, to engaging with Congress, to activating through social media platforms, each and every person plays a vital role in the development of a culture and a political environment that values the lives of children and young people and seeks to assure our safety, wellbeing, and health regardless of geographic location, religion, race, gender identity, immigration status or ability. We know that the healthy, safe, and just communities we wish to see cannot be built without the contributions and power of all young people.

It is clear, now more than ever, that young people are uniquely positioned as inheritors of our vast and complicated past, and constructors of our unfolding future. It is with great pride that we stand in solidarity with the actions and persistent courage of the many youth who are rising together at this time. With our continued dedication to using our voices and experiences to ignite change, we inspire and galvanize the public to move with us. We hope that with our continued dedication to using our voice and power to ignite change, that others will stand, and move with us in the steady march towards justice.

The creation of the statement was lead by YAB member Yaira Matos, who has been a part of our organization for many years. She was originally inspired to join our organization because of the opportunities that technology gives young people and has since been a part of many activism efforts working towards health equity and social medicine, which has included serving as a campus organizer for Advocates for Youth, a board member of The Salem Award Foundation for Human Rights and Social Justice, as well as a founder of the Reconnect Series to address heroin addiction in Massachusetts.

 

We spoke to Matos to learn more about how she created the statement, organized the effort with the other youth leaders on our Youth Advisory Board, and why this kind of statement is needed in a time of heightened vigilance.

 

YTH: What inspired the creation of the solidarity statement?

YAIRA: The catalyst was the Parkland shooting and the series of events after. Really strong voices started popping up and people started planning events across the country. Youth were positioned in a way that they were both the victims but also the leaders. In that moment, I felt emotionally distraught, really shocked, and it felt like there needed to be more people focusing on just how incredible that there were kids as young as in fourth grade that were documenting their actions on social media and putting it out there.

I felt both a lot of pride and sadness in a way that made me want to be very clear that people are supported in taking these actions and doing the actions in their communities. Knowing that YTH was a perfect organization that could lend support to that, I thought it would be the best platform [for such a statement to exist on]. I knew that me personally saying something would be adding more noise, whereas an organization that centers youth, that looks at issues being talked about in the media, offers the chance to be a tool of elevation.

YTH: How was the YAB solidarity statement formed? Tell me about the thought process and course of events that led to its creation.

YAIRA: I went ahead and asked Molly to see if she thought it was something we could do and if it was something YTH would be interested in. I wanted to make sure it was something that would be aligned with the organization, but
More than anything, I felt that this group on the Youth Advisory Board are people that are so widely intelligent and we are a group of people that are so heavily invested in so many amazing movements, have such strong voices, and are interested in representing our communities.

I felt the statement would be the strongest way to frankly get respect, since often youth voices are organized into a cute picture in a newspaper, but I felt like this was an instance called for something that was a sophisticated, clear, and straightforward response to what was going on around us.

It took me a bit of time to craft it since i”d never written one. I’d read a few but it was very different- a lot of it was writing from the heart, feeling really connected to the cause as well as the issues surrounding it, as well as poking around to see what other people have done in the past, throwing it together, and then I had some editing help from Shawn Reilly (another YAB member), and then we sent it off.

YTH: What was the process of creation of the statement? How did you come to a consensus on the language? Craft the messaging?

YAIRA: I took the lead on it mostly because I think it would have been difficult to coordinate drafts. At the final stages, we tried to get as people’s input and approval as possible and, if anyone wanted to change anything, the document was open for them to be able to edit it. So I wrote it, got editing help from Shawn, and then the YAB approved the final copy.

YTH: What is the intention of the statement? What do you hope it accomplishes in the broader scope of social justice?

YAIRA: I think more than anything to continue to validate the work that youth do when we active ourselves. A lot of the landscape and how we (youth) get portrayed is always cute stuff or over-the-top “Wow! Look at these young people! They are so inspiring.” When in reality, we’re almost always the most activated base. People know this, but for some reason it always gets construed as this cute thing that people are doing.

I think my biggest goal was to really lend empowerment and the feeling that this wasn’t an isolated thing, this was part of many other movements as a long legacy, as well as hoping that any attendees at YTH Live, anyone who reads the statement on the blog, that this is something that really deserves peoples energy, attention, and alignment with the movements that already exist. That was the main goal, to create a feeling of support for youth who were already active, and that also recognition of the fact that there’s so many issues we’ve been involved in, and so many causes that we’ve lended our voices to, and we’re a strong and capable base that deserves both respect as were doing these things, and also support from people who say they are in alignment with youth.

YTH: Do you (and the rest of the YAB) have goals in mind of the impact you want the state to have?

YAIRA: As young people in the world, many of us didn’t get to experience childhood. A lot of us are activated because tragedies are happening around us personally or in our communities. We must continue insist that young people can do the work. Also, there needs to be focus put on the fact that there’s something wrong with society in that we’re the ones who have to take bullets and then wake up the next day and lobby at the state house. It shouldn’t have to be that way.

I think organizations that work with youth should always be looking out for our wellbeing and assuring that we’re not going to expire before our time because we’re the ones doing the heavy lifting. We should all be looking at how we can keep youth healthy and sustained and able to do this work from a healthy place and not from a place of suffering.

YTH: How can adults stand in solidarity with the numerous youth movements happening around the world right now?

I think they should be finding ways to continue to give us platforms to speak out and speak up. To lessen whatever barriers are keeping us from being able to be respected and heard voices wherever we are.

So much of what youth is is waiting for gatekeepers to give you permission to do something. But people are always really inspired by people who don’t wait for that permission. So, I think adult allies should be finding ways to amplify the power that youth have and making sure that young people have a seat at the table. Making sure that it’s not just people hanging out at the table, but taking youth seriously and giving them an active role.

So many young people doing social change work could use access to spaces where we can learn from others and experience our youth and be in community. Adults can help facilitate that.

For both adults and young people alike, the opportunity for action is now. We invite you to stand in solidarity with young leaders and movement builders by signing your name to the solidarity statement. That way, all of our voices can create an echo chamber, too loud for those in positions of power to ignore. Sign the statement below to add your name to this important cause and join the effort of standing with youth activists across the globe.




INNOVATE: NEXT
NEXT is a mobile responsive website to facilitate access to preventive services, including STD prevention, sexual health resources, and other social services for youth exiting supervised care systems (YESCS) like foster care and/or the juvenile justice system.
Learn more about this YTH project