Our young adults are vulnerable, but they are fierce

August 25, 2023
by Yolanda Gordon

Representative John Lewis was 21 when he went on Freedom Rides of the 1960s that helped bring an end to unlawful and oppressive racial segregation policies in the American south. He was 25 on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama when he led a group of 600 Black folks to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge to vote in peaceful opposition to violent racial segregation. Joan Mulholland was 18 years old when she joined the Mississippi Freedom Ride. These young adults were leaders in the movement that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Young people have always been the backbone of the great leaps forward in equity and justice. 

While the young among us continue to display leadership and courage, they now live with unprecedented uncertainty. Young adults who attended college before and during the Great Recession found it difficult to find employment after graduation. Individuals who did not graduate are still strapped with massive student loan debt. The pandemic delayed new graduates from starting the jobs they worked so hard to acquire. Millennials and Generation Z (Gen Z) are stereotyped in the media and in the halls of power. The picture painted is of lazy, entitled generations, which is far from the truth. Young leaders are dealing with mounting student loan debt, lack of quality job opportunities, lack of affordable housing, and eroding civil liberties their forebearers enjoyed in generations past.  

And while they bear much of the brunt of exploitative policy decisions, they are often left out of the conversation. Young leaders are essential to any movement, especially those with direct experience of poverty. Some fellow advocates may dismiss their experiences because of their age, but young people are often the change agents, and how we support them impacts us all. Like budgeting for a household and filing taxes, advocacy is a key life skill. We must support young leaders to practice this skill so they can help make systemic changes that improve the fabric of society from classrooms to boardrooms and beyond. 

Personally, as the Program Manager for the RESULTS Organizing and Advocacy Fellowship for young leaders, I am passionate about young adults and the work that they do to pave the way for a more just world. As a nation, as an organization, we need to look and listen. Many of them have experienced more in life than we know. Recent youth-led protests have given way to a rising tide of social change. Think back to Occupy Wall Street spotlighting corporate corruption, the demonstrations for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the lawsuits that are starting to create accountability for climate change — all benefit from the leadership of the young. Our young adults are vulnerable, but they are fierce.   

Every year, young adults from around the country participate in the unique RESULTS Fellowship experience. The Fellowship assists young leaders to develop skills, build community, and take advantage of opportunities in other organizations. The Fellowship is a safe and inclusive space with participants from every walk of life. Oppression is not accepted in our space and the Fellows not only lead by our values, but they keep each other accountable to ensure that everyone feels safe. The Fellowship’s design and activities aim to center lived experience with the various intersectional components of poverty as their north star. Those with lived experience of poverty are the experts in how best to dismantle it. If you are a young leader age 20 to 35 who is passionate about centering lived experience in your advocacy to end poverty, I encourage you to apply now to the Fellowship and continue to raise your voice!  

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