The rise in youth activism since the 2016 presidential election has been taken to even greater heights recently with the mass movement for gun control, sparked by the incredibly courageous students of Parkland, Florida.
The school walkout, national March For Our Lives, and the daily actions young people are taking to bring about change on this and other social justice issues has drawn much-deserved attention from around the world.
While this has been a huge inspiration for us as well, it isn’t a surprise, as we see campers around the country doing activism every day. Most of it just doesn’t make the news.
Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp is a summer camp for social change. A week-long overnight leadership camp, YEA Camp has trained over 600 teens and tweens from a dozen countries to make a difference on a cause they care about. (This year, we’re also launching a new session of YEA Camp for Adults!)
With all the busyness of school, testing, extracurriculars, and after-school jobs or chores, the summer is the best time of the year for teens to focus on their passions and get training, support, mentorship, and friendships to help them on their change-making path.
Even though YEA Camp has been going strong for almost 10 years now, it may as well have been designed for the countless young people across the country who are starting to get involved in activism.
Youth today are concerned about causes like racism, poverty, women’s rights, LGBTQ equality, immigrant rights, the environment, animal rights, and more – and Trump’s election and daily assault on these issues, as well as the Parkland mass shooting and focus on gun control, have sparked young people to get active on a whole new level.
1. Meet like-minded friends and inspiring staff role models. Some YEA Campers report being the only person they know who cares as much as they do about their cause. Some even experience bullying because they have taken a stand for what they care about. Being surrounded by peers and mentors who also care deeply helps us feel that we are not alone, that we have people we can rely on for help, and that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
2. Build resilience and learn how to deal with the sadness and anger we feel about the injustices of the world. Through powerful activities designed to safely experience and share our emotions about the world, YEA Campers find healthy ways to express and process emotions, practice self-care, develop healthy coping methods, and strengthen their relationships and support system. Changing the world will take a while, and we can’t give up.
3. Learn about the history of social movements and how we each fit in and can do our part. It may seem like today’s problems are worse than they ever were, or like we are up against the impossible, but learning about activists who came before us who literally helped end slavery, gave so many of us the right to vote, led to environmental protections, and so much more helps us see that change takes time but that we can and must win.
4. Deepen understanding of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression. Through interactive workshops and activities, YEA Campers examine various forms of privilege, how injustice is institutionalized, and how it can be disrupted. We can all find ways to leverage our privileges and be allies across movements.
5. Learn specific things we can do in our everyday lives to bring about change. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to figure out how to get involved, or to know if one person can make a difference, especially at a young age. Thankfully, from improving your school’s recycling or cafeteria food, fundraising for your favorite cause, making or sharing Youtube videos, speaking up when you hear someone being bullied, and so much more, the things young people can do to make a difference are endless. Check out these great organizations and get connected with (at least!) one working on a cause you care about.
6. Get involved with politics, even if you’re too young to vote. Voting is important, yes, but it makes far less of a difference than influencing other voters or our leaders directly. Think about it — if you vote, that’s one vote for your candidates, but if you get other people to vote, you can get many more votes for them! And we don’t need the right to vote to register voters, make phone calls, or share information. Check out our YEA Camp Guide for Kids Too Young to Vote to get started. (It’s actually all relavent to adults too!)
7. Build skills to make a difference at your school, like starting a club, grassroots outreach, or planning a campaign. How about improving the food in your school cafeteria, getting better recycling at school, or starting a school fundraiser for a local shelter? Maybe you want to launching an anti-bullying initiative or start a school-wise discussion about racism or LGBTQ equality in your school or community? At YEA Camp, you’ll learn how to do these things, and more.
8. Improve your communication skills, especially when speaking with people in positions of authority and people who disagree with you. (Or both at the same time!) We do a lot of this at YEA Camp. What you have to say is important — and we don’t want any limiting beliefs or anxiety about speaking up hold you back from getting your message out as widely as possible.
9. Strengthen your self-confidence and find your voice. Through powerful activities to overcome limiting beliefs, as well as developing your skills, expanding your knowledge, and being surrounded with an incredibly supportive community of people who will be cheering you on like you have never experienced before, you will leave YEA Camp fired up and ready to go make a difference.
10. Have fun! These are tough times for many of us, and we need to take care of ourselves and enjoy our lives! While YEA Camp is focused on making a difference, it is so fun! From silly games and a dance party to a talent show and free time to just hang out with new friends, YEA Campers often describe their experience as the best week of their life!
If you or someone you know is a 12-17 year-old who wants to change the world, check out the dates, locations on both coasts, and details on YEACamp.org and get registered to join us for a life-changing experience at YEA Camp this summer.
Think you’re too old for camp? You’re not! We now have a YEA Camp for Adults!
With all that’s wrong in the world, we look forward to another summer helping as many people as possible make the biggest difference they can.