Never underestimate the power of the Youth Voice

Jul 15 2015

By Steven Olender

I have heard the voice of the next generation and it is loud, powerful and exciting. This week, I went to check out the Youth Voice exhibit at the Thinkery. The exhibit is a selection of work from the Media Awareness Project's work with more than 200 Austin youth, mostly consisting of twenty or so social media style pictures that display different issues affecting kids today.

Many of the pictures depicted the very real problems we imagine when we think of what kids face: healthy relationships, bullying and beauty standards. The kids who created the works in Youth Voice, however, are aware of so many more issues, issues that I never thought of at their age. There were posters reflecting hunger, homelessness and racism in our community. Other posters spoke of rampant deportation in Travis County and of issues with tenants' rights. They engage thoughtfully with issues that most adults I encounter would avoid.

It gives me great hope for the future that this generation is engaging at such a young age with the complex issues facing our community. It also drives home, for me, the importance of the work we do here at CASA of Travis County. The things that children who have been abused or neglected go through are staggering, but it's important to remember that those children still contend with the same problems as every other kid. They deal on a daily basis with healthy relationships, bullying and beauty standards, but also with racism, hunger, homelessness and even concerns of deportation and tenants' rights.

But the fact that the youth we serve are already engaged in the difficult problems facing our community isn't just a burden for them, it also means that they have the potential to fix things. CASA volunteers are trained to advocate for the children they serve to not simply be safe, but also nurtured and set up for a life where they can accomplish great things. At CASA of Travis County, we have high hopes for the world that the youth of today will help mold. With guidance and support, we know that any child can make a difference.

I left the Youth Voice exhibit at the Thinkery a little more hopeful for the future and a little more worried about the burdens we let sit on the shoulders of kids who will live in it. I'll leave you with the simple message that one Youth Voice student wrote: If you want to feel good, do good.

The Youth Voice exhibit is a program of the Media Awareness Project. It continues at the Thinkery through July 31st.