More than 200 young people from around Washington state gathered in Olympia on Friday to meet with elected officials and advocate for policies that directly affect their lives. Many related their experiences in the foster care system and some, such as members of The Mockingbird Society’s Youth Advocates Ending Homelessness (YAEH), will give voice to the thousands of youth in our state who unfortunately have experienced the crisis of homelessness.
Youth Advocacy Day is a powerful reminder of the pragmatic wisdom young people can offer when given the chance. They provide a unique brand of insight that can’t be found in data points, studies or even the experiences of well-meaning adults passionate about helping youth. Lamar, a formerly-homeless YAEH member we’ve mentioned on the blog in the past, put it well when addressing the National Alliance on Ending Homelessness’ conference recently:
"When homeless youth are at the table, it changes the conversation from adults talking about how to “fix” the young people they work with to discussing grounded, authentic solutions for real problems. Since we are the ones with the real experiences, we know what's wrong, and know where new opportunities are to make improvements.
"I feel very accomplished and empowered by my involvement with The Mockingbird Society and the advocacy work we do. We build our skills, gain confidence, and are recognized as leaders. We're doing life-changing work and to be involved with that as a youth is very important to me."
In addition to shining a spotlight on youth homelessness for state policymakers, Lamar and his YAEH colleagues are playing an instrumental role in shaping King County’s comprehensive plan to prevent and end youth homelessness. YAEH members are bringing substantive, innovative proposals to the table that will shape how our region helps homeless youth for years to come.
Whether speaking at Youth Advocacy Day or contributing to our region’s planning process, these young people display courage that shouldn’t be overlooked or understated. Their expertise is born from deeply personal and often painful experiences, which they share so that other young people might benefit. We and future generations of young people owe them an incredible debt of gratitude.
I hope you’ll join me in sending a quick note of thanks to these inspiring young people via Twitter using the hashtag #youthleaders.
Image courtesy of The Mockingbird Society