Youth have played a critical role in activism for decades - from Tienanmen Square to the deep south. And today we are seeing incredible youth changemakers and impassioned young leaders taking the charge on big issues like Flint’s water crisis, trans youth rights, the killing of unarmed individuals, and of course, gun control and school safety. These young activists are inspiring other young people to do the same. Youth have a prime opportunity right now to show their communities both locally and globally how important they are, that they are valued resources, and that their input matters.
I have dedicated my life to amplifying youth voice and leadership. Even when I was young I made sure my voice was loud. If my mom could comment, she’d be the first to agree! She’d also be the first one to say that I wasn’t always effective. Actually I probably caused more harm than good. Unfortunately, even though I was loud, my passion often clouded my ability to be heard. Because the March for Our Lives movement is led by youth that have inspired millions of young people around the world to speak up about the things that matter most to them, I thought this might be a good time to share the lessons I’ve learned in an effort to encourage all young people to make sure that they are not only loud but that they are heard.
If you are young and on a mission, then this blog is for you. Here’s what you need to know…
What issue are your passionate about and can you zero in on the moment in time when you realized that it was important to you? What is the story around your why? Try to recall as many details as you can. Write them down. Relive them. Feel that moment that moved you from passive to passion. Harness that because you’ll have no impact if you aren’t living and breathing your why. Watch this video of Edna Chávez speaking at the March for Our Lives event in DC if you want to get a better understanding of how you can harness your why and let it be the fuel that drives you toward impact.
Knowing your audience is crucial. How can you speak if you don’t understand WHO you are speaking to? Gather as much information as you can - what is the demographic of the people at the event? Or if you are crafting a movement, who do you want to target? Policymakers or your peers? Because what you would say to one might be completely different than what you would say to the other. Who do you need to motivate to join your cause? Picture the people you are trying to pull into your circle. Get to know them. That way you can be really strategic about your content.
Believe it or not, not everyone thinks that global warming and climate change is a real thing. Not everyone thinks its a bad idea to arm teachers with guns in order to protect them from active shooters. So who are these people? What is THEIR why? Whether through social media or standing in the crowd, they will be part of your audience at some point. It’s much better to know what you are up against and be prepared for the opposition than to be blindsided and caught off guard. So beat them to the chase. Know them before they find you.
Do your research - know facts and statistics that are relevant to your topic. You need to be able to backup your passion with hard core fact. The most ineffective speakers are the ones who demand change but can’t say why. And actually, you can do more harm toward your own cause if you can’t incorporate data. (And, I hope this goes without saying - make sure your sources are legit!) You might be able to move people to tears with your emotional speech but without numbers, people might not be moved to act.
Focus on 1-2 major, key points. Everything you say should support those big ideas. Data, stories, stats, arguments and counterarguments - use all of these to support your main points. This is incredibly difficult. And when you can master it, you show maturity and refinement. Too many young speakers are trying to say too much; they wander all over the place, and then their main points get washed away. When you can’t zero in on your cause, the audience is left confused and you’ve unfortunately missed an opportunity to gain followers and make an impact.
I’m talking about time. Specifically, the amount of time you have to make a point. And this doesn’t necessarily mean you use a timer. I’m talking more about keeping your audience engaged in what you have to say. Watch your crowd. Feel their energy. Watch how they shift. What does their body language tell you? It’s essential that you engage your audience, keep them engaged, get to your point, stick to the point, and end with a call to action. It’s much better to leave them hanging and wanting more than to leave them exhausted and bored.
Just like no one likes a monolog that never ends, no one likes a whiner with no solutions. If all you do is complain about what’s wrong, guess what? People are going to get sick of listening. For everything thing you are “complaining” about, make sure you have 2-3 solid solutions that are doable, applicable, and accessible. March for Our Lives is so strong because it has a very clear list of solutions. The options are easy to understand and accessible to everyone from top-level leadership to everyday citizens.
Are you prepared, right now, to give a 30 second pitch on who you are and what you stand for? Write it out, practice it, say it over and over, try it out on a friend whose opinion you trust and who will be honest with you. Be prepared. For anything. At all times.
You have potential beyond anything you can fathom.
Unfortunately, we grow up with incredible negative self-talk which develops into a personal belief system. A monolog on repeat reminding us of what we are incapable of. We need to press stop on that recording and play a new song. One that uplifts us and carries us to the place of possibility! Trust me, you are worthy! And when you lift yourself up, it becomes infectious and others want to join you. If you have followed young activist Mari Copley (@LittleMissFlint) then you would see how one young girl from Michigan changed her entire community by being a voice when no one else wanted to.
Always, always recognize all that you have to be thankful for. Sometimes things to be grateful for seem really far away or disguised or gone completely. In those times, you gotta dig deep. Maybe it seems like the only thing you can be grateful for is your ability to breath. If that’s where you’re at right now, then you say it loud and you say it proud. Never hesitate to say a simple thank you or give a compliment. Or show appreciation to any opportunity that presents itself or the person who made it happen. Gratitude gets you everywhere. And the more you practice gratitude, the more you will have to be grateful for. It’s all about the VIBE - what you put out is what you get back!
And with that, I’d like to say thank YOU for being you. For being passionate and for wanting to make an impact. For using your voice and for making sure you are heard!