I’ve had the privilege to talk story with young people across our community about their fears, their struggles, their hopes, and their visions regarding this pandemic. Their proms and graduations have been cancelled, their friendships have been put on hold, and their post-high school plans are now in jeopardy.

At the same time, I’ve noticed that they possess such optimism about our community’s future and the drive to build it. Ethan Hoppe-Cruz, a freshman at Waianae High School writes, “At this moment, we have the power to reshape Hawaii. Make it a more equal, resilient and sustainable community. One that works for all.”

This crisis hit our community so quickly and so forcefully that we didn’t get a chance to ask our youth for their input on how we’re going to handle it. So let’s start now by offering them seats at the table. Let’s welcome them as our decision-making partners, our creative consultants, and our navigators as we explore these uncharted waters.

This generation has taken a leadership role during crises before; remember, these are the kids who planned the Youth March for Our Lives, influencing gun-safety bills across the country and uplifting gun safety as a defining issue of the 2018 U.S. midterms. These are the kids who organized the Youth Climate Strike, mobilizing entire communities to protest climate inaction and demand urgent action from governments and corporations.

Youth Have The Most At Stake

Today we find ourselves in a new crisis — a pandemic — which will inevitably be followed by several more crises — economic crises, educational crises, emotional crises.

And for far too many adults, we think of these crises as simply blips in our personal histories. Another school shooting is just another breaking news story.

Kids stand in silence holding the names of gun violence victims at the Hawaii State Capitol during the #MarchForOurLives rally in March, 2018. It followed the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, earlier that year. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Climate change is just an inconvenience that our future generations will have to face. COVID-19 is just a short-term scare before life returns back to normal. This too shall pass.

Hoppe-Cruz responds, “These crises, these challenges — climate change and environmental racism, the effects of the pay gap, school shootings — these are our futures. We don’t have the luxury of thinking, this too shall pass.” In my experience working with youth, I’ve noticed that the more intimidating the crisis, the more courageous and action-oriented many of our youth seem to become. They spend less time complaining about barriers to peace and more time proactively building a beloved community.

They Also Have A Unique Skillset

At Ceeds of Peace, a local nonprofit, one of our focuses is to uplift youth’s voice and support the design and launch of their community action plans.

We’ve seen a team of sixth graders at Malama Honua convene an entire community to restore a neighborhood stream. We’ve seen a freshman at Punahou collect and distribute over 3,000 pieces of school supplies to Title I schools.

We’ve seen youth from across Hawaii launch the Climate Congress — a series of climate change workshops for the community-at-large. Many adults think: Kids these days only care about social media. But these youth have demonstrated unique skills and imagination often more effective than that demonstrated by most adults.

Hoppe-Cruz writes, “The youth of this country have already shown that we are not just going to be silenced.

Using modern tools and our proficiency in social media and tech to our advantage, we can affect change. Mobilize millions to fight for what is important to us.”

When I see our program’s youth design approaches to address the bullying epidemic through organizing networks of peer support through social media, or efforts to shift negative stereotypes of Waimanalo through oral histories, or campaigns to advocate for free bus fare for students who can’t afford it, my reaction is that these youth are wise beyond their years.

But Hoppe-Cruz doesn’t see age as the determining factor here: “We matter, youth input and voice matters and we have the power to affect change. It is conscious, compassion, and logic that inform decisions of wrong and right — not age.”

So How Can We Support Youth?

Our favorite question to ask our youth: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Hoppe-Cruz prefers a different question; “I know that I am motivated now. I would rather be asked: What can I help you to accomplish now?”

Let’s commit to offering our youth platforms and opportunities — at our dinner tables, in our classrooms, in our communities – to design, lead, and deliver the change they wish to see. Now is as good a time as any as we adults struggle mightily to tackle COVID-19-related repercussions and rebuild a post-COVID-19 future.

Youth can navigate these perilous waters with us.

We’re going to need their vision and their skill as we rebuild this beloved community.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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