By Jason Fuller:
Misguided, out of touch, self-serving and ungrateful are a few words used to describe young people. Mitchell Hartman said the following in his New York Times article “Millennials at Work: Young and Callow, Like Their Parents”, “They don’t have a strong work ethic, these reports say. They’re not motivated and don’t take the initiative. They’re undependable and not committed to their employers. They need constant affirmation and expect rapid advancement.” Why are millennials stigmatized as THE non-contributing group in our world? For everyone who uttered the words above, this past weekend (May 30-June 1st) would prove them wrong.
This past weekend was the Organizing Youth Engagement Conference (OYE); this conference has existed since 2009 and serves as an opportunity for youth throughout New Mexico to unite and be proactive in their communities. OYE allows the young leaders of today to come together and address the issues facing youth in New Mexico. From attending this conference I know that youth are committed to social justice, are experts on many issues and can have fun while doing so.
A common stereotype associated with young people here in the 21st century is the concept of laziness. This concept is ridiculous! During the OYE conference, young people facilitated over 75% of the workshop presentations. These workshops addressed issues of bullying, LGBTQ equality, education reform, mental health awareness, peer pressure, social media activism and community engagement. Young people were able to create solutions during each workshop because of the positive group discussions. For some reason, it’s hard for people believe that 350 introverted, lazy, and self-serving young people agreed on solutions to issues we see in New Mexico, but they can (unlike our government). Perhaps we wouldn’t think so lowly of our youth if we treated them as experts. Why aren’t young people considered experts when discussing issues that dismantle their country? Our youth live through bullying, mental illness, and a broken education system, why are their voices silenced?
Youth attendees came to the OYE conference with the intention of rewriting the stereotypes of young people. They demonstrated consciousness and logic as they constructed a “Wall of Burning Issues”; this activity gave New Mexico’s youth the chance to call out things such as racism, sexism, mental health discrimination, obesity, and food insecurities. From each of these themes, youth created a five-point plan of action to solve each issue. I was left in awe at the young people’s ability to manage conflicts both in and out of the classroom. The heart-felt stories shared this weekend allowed walls of judgment to be torn down and bridges of friendship to take their place.
After a weekend full of critical thinking and discussions youth found time to kick off their shoes and have a great time. Young people were able to swim, attend a dance, and present their solutions before legislators. More importantly, attendees walked away from this conference knowing that their voice is essential to reform throughout New Mexico. The OYE conference has grown every year since its inception in 2009; and every year youth realize the significance of their collective voice.