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Youth Activation

I looked around the room and saw young people who are members of the Special Olympic Youth Activation Committee. They are leading a national social justice movement to create opportunities for al youth to engage in positive change to the benefit of all of us.

The youth were making decisions about the sessions that will be offered for over 200 youth in July at the Special Olympics Project UNIFY Youth Activation Summit; in another room young people facilitated a conversation with adults responsible for creating a similar set of sessions for teachers; and in another room young people were establishing the strategies to ensure every young person who participated in the Youth Activation Summit this summer felt welcomed, engaged, confident and competent to make significant changes in their schools and communities.

These youth are members of the Special Olympics Project UNIFY Youth Activation Committee responsible for leading a national social justice movement that will create greater opportunities for all youth to be engaged in positive change to the benefit of all of us.

You will notice that the word “activation” is prevalent in the descriptions above. This is not by accident. Over a year ago when the inaugural members of the Youth Activation Committee convened, they decided to change the name of the Committee from Youth Advisory Committee to Youth Activation Committee.

Their rationale was that they did not want to limit their contributions to advising others, but to commit to activating themselves and others; they did not want to measure their success by the advice they provided but by the actions they take on behalf of social justice; they did not want to allow themselves the opportunity to think about change but to create change; and they did not want to allow adults to be advised by them but motivated by them to act together for positive results.

As a result of their activation, this group of young people, joined by others throughout the world, have successfully launched the Ban the R-Word campaign that encourages everyone to eliminate the word “retarded” from their vocabulary.

This social justice campaign was launched by young people, and adults who grasp the value of youth voice and leadership, based on their commitment to equity for all; they activated the campaign because it was the right thing to do to bring attention to how offensive the word is and its impact on individuals.

The youth committee did not conduct a multi-year study to determine if a campaign was needed; they did not conduct a large literature review to see what others were doing about reducing or eliminating the r-word; and they did not wait for the right time of year to initiate the campaign. They acted on their passion for social justice and their impatience with allowing another day to go by without addressing the harmfulness of using the r-word. They stood up and said enough is enough and rather than study and talk about it, they took on the work.

Last year the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign was activated March 31st; this year the campaign has selected March 3rd as a day of awareness. But make no mistake; these designated days are about specific awareness-building strategy -- as they bring attention to the daily commitment and activation of young people to take responsibility for creating a more just society.

We can learn from these young people – we can activate ourselves to reduce negative language, pledge our support and join others around the world in a social justice campaign and review the following web site for insights from others and resources to engage in this important campaign. http://www.r-word.org/

Let’s follow our youth and take action to eliminate the derogatory use of the r-word; and follow their example to advocate for social justice in our lives, communities and world.
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