Many of us spend time wondering – how can we move towards the world we want to live in? How can we create new ways of being together that dignify everyone? When youth are given the opportunity to tap into their imagination and speak their dreams aloud, possibilities for a better world begin to wake. When we cultivate environments in which youth are truly respected and their ideas welcomed, we support the next generation of young leaders that we need.
Devon Little works as a facilitator, trainer and mediator guided by the values of community, social justice and dignity. She has designed and facilitated experiential-learning programs for numerous organizations in the US and abroad. Devon currently consults for schools, youth development professionals, and social service organizations, facilitating on the themes of restorative justice, creative engagement, experiential learning and community culture. Devon holds a Master of Social Work and a Graduate Certificate in Restorative Justice. Her long-time studies in the arts inspire her to use artistic mediums to help people cultivate personal awareness, effective communication, and leadership skills.
Inviting the Imagination of Youth: A Path Towards a Better World
My name is Devon, and I’m grateful to be here with you today. I also want to give thanks to everyone who made it possible for me to be here today, including those that have taught me along the way.
I agree with the author of that last poem, adrienne maree brown – that to bring forth abundance, a world we all want to live in, we need to engage our imagination to the fullest extent. A large part of my life’s work has been helping young people to do that, and I have seen powerful outcomes emerge. So what I want to share with you today is a little bit about the impact of inviting youth both to dream big, and to contribute to their community.
I want to begin with an invitation to engage our own imagination. So I’m going to invite you to bring your awareness to yourself in this moment. Let’s all take a deep breath in, and just check-in with ourselves. Notice how you feel in your body today, and what your emotional landscape is like.
My question for you now, is, if you were a landscape today, what landscape would you be?
You might be a pond in a forest, a sand dune in the sun, a cold mountain stream, a boggy marsh… there is no right or wrong answer here, so whatever comes to mind, please tell us in the chat what landscape you are today, and why.
For me, you just demonstrated how valuable, how informative, our imaginations are. Sometimes our imagination knows things that we aren’t consciously aware of! And because you shared your imagination with me, I was able to connect more deeply with you.
I work with an organization called Partners for Youth Empowerment (or “PYE” for short), which uses the arts, experiential learning, and facilitation to unleash the creative potential of young people. We do this by training adults to use what we call the Creative Empowerment Model.
I was first introduced to the Creative Empowerment Model at a camp here in Washington, called the Power of Hope. I was 23, and a young mentor at the camp. When I walked away from that camp, I had the greatest sense of possibility I had maybe ever had in my life at that point. It had been communicated so genuinely to me, and seemingly many of the participants there, that we each mattered; that we each were creative; that we each deserved to be seen and heard; and that each one of us had unique gifts to contribute to the world.
Being in a community where people deeply hold those beliefs about one another is a rare thing! Young people can say what the impact is of the model better than I can. I’m going to show you a quick clip from a video that was taken at a Power of Hope camp.
As we heard one of the participants say, it was an opportunity for “teenagers to fully love themselves and express themselves” and to “be whoever they want to be.” I call that the experience of knowing that we matter, and that our lives matter. Unfortunately, because of classism, racism, ableism, sexism, heterosexism, and more kinds of oppression, a lot of young people don’t necessarily feel that they matter – let alone that they could have unique ideas that the world needs.
But once a young person believe they matter, and that their ideas matter – and they believe that about others – watch out! I cannot tell you how many young people I’ve been taught by as they led a workshop, or spoke up to advocate for their peer, or imagined a solution to a problem that I had never thought about.
Young Women Empowered, or Y-WE, is another local program that uses the Creative Empowerment Model. I am lucky to have been involved with the program since its inception. The first year was very powerful – but at the end of that year we no longer had funding to continue. Not only did many of the participants decide that ending the program was unacceptable, they also imagined a solution – a fundraiser and friendraiser called the “International Dinner”. One participant, named Rahwa, stepped out of her comfort zone, and bravely stepped up to help organize that dinner, Y-WE’s first fundraiser – for which all of the participants and mentors decorated, cooked, and performed. While that kind of community leadership was newer for Rahwa then, ten years later, Rahwa is on the board of Y-WE, she is a public health specialist, and she is active in organizing fundraisers and marches on behalf of the liberation of immigrants and black people in the U.S.
So it’s important both that young people trust themselves, and that they trust their imagination. Rahwa, like many of us, is clear that we are facing some big issues of injustice right now, issues in which not everyone has an experience of life with equal access to health, to mental health, to contribution. And if we simply keep doing things the way they have been done, we aren’t likely to change these circumstances going into the future. We have to imagine new possibilities.
adrienne maree brown puts it this way: “We are in an imagination battle… I often feel I am trapped inside someone’ else’s imagination, and I must engage my own imagination in order to break free.”
Augusto Boal, who created the Theater of the Oppressed, a tool we often use with young people, found that a government, to effectively oppress a people, began by oppressing the imagination. So he believed that in order to liberate a people, a community must liberate their imagination.
I am certain that the imagination of young people, such as Rahwa, is critical in order to envision and live into a future that has never existed before, a future that we all want to live in. A future where everyone has the possibility of sharing their gifts and living a life of dignity.
I also believe that in order to build such a future, we need the imagination of everyone – including everyone in this room. We are in challenging time, and so it can feel tender to dream – yet, it is so important to spend time dreaming, and imagining what we wish things were like, because when we envision something, we take the first step towards making it real.
So we are going to close by making a group vision of the future, full of the imagination of all of us in this room. Starting with the words “I imagine…” write one thing you want to see, or feel, or hear in the future you want to live in.
Our collective vision is powerful, and will set us on a powerful course. Thank you for imagining with me today.
Additional Links from this Service
Here are some links to those whose work was referenced in the August 2nd homily. You can follow these links to learn more about these groups and individuals and/or to support their work.
- Partners for Youth Empowerment: www.partnersforyouth.org (They also offer free online videos and tools, such as the song “Walk in the Power”)
- Power of Hope (Washington): www.powerofhope.org
- Young Women Empowered: www.youngwomenempowered.org
- adrienne maree brown: www.adriennemareebrown.net
- Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed: www.ptoweb.org. (among others)
- Sankofa Read Aloud: www.facebook.com/sankofareadaloud/
- Monica Clark-Robinson (author of Let the Children March): www.monicaclark-robinson.com
- Frank Morrison (illustrator of Let the Children March): www.morrisongraphics.com
- Vanessa Richards (of Creative Together): www.creativetogether.ca
- 3canal (musicians): www.3canal.com
- Demetria Martinez (author of Elena at Five Years): www.demetriamartinez.com