Thank a Youth Worker for the Occupy Movement

by: Jason Wyman

I came up through the youth work/development movement. My first job was as a babysitter. Then, I worked in a day care center at 14. Next, the YMCA, Future Leaders of America, AmeriCorps, Minneapolis Unified School District, OMI/Excelsior Beacon Center (in San Francisco), San Francisco Unified School District, more YMCAs. Finally, I ended up helping build the youth development workforce using peer-based education and organization strategies infused with arts, wellness, and community practices.

I never graduated college to do this work. I just did the work, stayed open to learning and growing, and talked to lots and lots and lots of different people. Through it all, I have met amazingly passionate people dedicated to improving their communities, seen youth take leadership (with some guidance from adults) and literally transform their school, and witnessed the power of arts and healing to bridge divides and generations. The workers in this field, which is quite broad and varied, share a similar (and almost singular) belief: that young people should be given opportunities for leadership and in shaping their world.

This philosophy is RADICAL! It challenges the status quo. It challenges the belief that young people should just be recipients of services. It challenges the role of educator and student. It challenges EVERYTHING. It is the core of the Occupy Movement.

I have visited the Occupy SF Camp, attended the march on the banks and was at the Oakland General Strike on Wednesday, November 2, 2011. Everywhere I turn, I see people that have worked or are working in the field of youth work/development. Everywhere I go, there are young people standing side by side with adults. Everywhere there people are connecting with people as individuals; not as their “role” in society. And at each of these moments, I am reminded of the legacy of generations working to empower the youth of “today”.

Thursday, November 3, 2011, was Thank A Youth Worker Day. It was started by some good, dear friends in Indiana and has reached across this country. It is a day to celebrate the people that work with, for, or on behalf of youth. It is about celebrating those that believe that young people, given supports and opportunities, can and will achieve a future that is more equitable for their children and their children’s children. It is a day to celebrate the legacy of empowering people to solve their own problems. It is a day to CELEBRATE OCCUPY.

The legacy of empowerment is not unique to youth work/development. In fact, youth development/work is only possible because of the suffragists, the abolitionists, the labor organizers, the educators, the artists, the mothers and fathers who see and support the full potential of their children, the grassroots organizers that came before the theory of youth development. The spread of youth development/work would be impossible without the institutions (like the YMCAs, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the 4-H, the Future Homemakers/Farmers of America, the YWCAs, the Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts, etc.) that embraced a philosophy of empowerment and spread it through their networks. And it wouldn’t matter to more marginalized communities and localities if smaller, more nimble, more culturally-competent organizations also did not make youth development their own and challenge the larger institutions to implement better, more culturally relevant programming. In concert, these pieces become dynamic and ARE what will bring about the future we, the 99%, wish to see: one of hope for humanity where ALL have access to shelter, food, healthcare, education, and the ability to thrive.

It may not be the official “Thank a Youth Worker Day” any longer, but that shouldn’t stop you from going out there and finding a friend who works for the YMCA or an after school program or an arts organization or a queer youth program or the 4-H or one of the myriad other youth development organizations out there and THANKING THEM! Thank them not just for being a youth worker. Thank them for being a PART of the OCCUPY MOVEMENT. For whether they realize it or not, they are part of a legacy of empowerment. And they are the 99%.

Jason Wyman is a life-long educator, writer, learner and performer. He finds spaces between things and then creates supports between them. He has helped professionalize youth development, created original theater, developed learning models based on peer exchange and shared expertise, written fables inspired by the darkness of fairy tales and fostered community rooted in social justice, creativity, and laughter. He lives in San Francisco with his beautiful husband and precocious cat. You can read more at www.14blackpoppies.com.

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