By Gabrielle Moran
As a rising junior in high school, I have had the opportunity to fill leadership roles and I have learned to appreciate them, delegate gracefully, and to make the most from each experience of leading or guiding a task that requires group effort. In the pursuit to become a stronger youth leader, I realize I have the fortune of living in a community where we foster and support impactful youth led initiatives. When preparing to profile a youth led social change program, I find myself wondering where do my subjects acquire the drive, vision, and leadership qualities necessary for operating social change oriented initiatives. As I have learned from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success, success is indeed gained from hard work, however we must look to areas such as birthdates, surrounding environments, and culture to evaluate how to be successful. In my pursuit of learning how to become a better leader, I often want to hear about other’s stories of success. Ted Talks, as I have learned are one of the greatest ways to satiate an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
Natalie Warne, a young activist from Chicago, who worked with Invisible Children, a movement to draw awareness to Africa’s longest war and its child soldiers under the command and torture of Joseph Kony, the leader of a guerilla group in Uganda, set a goal that many may consider to be overly idealistic. Warne’s TedxTeen Talk teaches youth that having idealistic views does not mean that the goals inspired by those views are not unachievable. Warne begins her talk by defining anonymous extraordinaries as, “those who work selflessly and vigorously and are motivated by conviction not recognition”. Teenagers often work toward goals to prove to themselves and others that they are capable of achieving greatness, meanwhile once one enters to realm of adulthood, he or she must work to gain recognition in order to advance professionally. It is more believable that teenage activists would be motivated by conviction, as opposed to adults who are more likely to work toward recognition.
Toward the end of her time in high school, Warne attended a screening of the film, Invisible Children. She explains feeling a range of emotions upon viewing the film; she did not know whether to feel rage, pity, or guilt that this was the first time she has ever heard of this war. This moment motivated Warne to take action and ask questions. Warne learned that she could assist with Invisible Children to push toward a bill being passed that would apprehend Joseph Kony and his rebel army commanders and it would provide funding for the redevelopment of areas affected by the twenty-five year long war. Warne’s task as an intern in San Diego was to travel to Chicago to plan an event that would occur simultaneously with events in ninety-nine other cities across the globe. The events were set to establish rallies in each city until a public figure used his or her voice to draw awareness to Invisible Children’s Mission. Being that one of Warne’s assigned events was in Chicago, Oprah Winfrey was the ultimate celebrity to support Invisible children’s cause.
With the help of other anonymous extraordinaries, marching outside of the Oprah Show’s production offices for several days, Warne achieved her goal of catching Oprah’s attention. Winfrey featured the Invisible Children marchers on the daytime television program, which reached an audience of 7.4 million viewers on average daily. Warne explains that while her personal story was featured and documented in the press, the efforts of one hundred other interns made this idealistic goal achievable.
Warne’s story proves that our society and education systems must provide youth with opportunities to lead and find the causes that they care about and give them the chance to have the experience of working toward a cause for something greater than yourself. In Warne’s case media presented her with this opportunity. Do we effectively use media for bettering ourselves, or do we simply use it for entertainment?
Most importantly, we must provide young people with these experiences so that they can first understand their place in the world by working locally to achieve a global scale goal, and secondly for young people to understand the efficacy in their ideas and that they have unlimited potential.
This blog post is meant to challenge you to understand your place in cultivating a new generation of leaders. If you actively work toward establishing a generation of leaders who have the ability to act locally and think globally, we want to hear and understand how you have seen a rise of youth leadership in your lifetime. If you are unsure of how you have or have not contributed to the empowerment of youth leadership, do you believe that the young people of your community have the means to lead? If you are a leader in any capacity, do you use your platform to uplift others toward success in a goal greater than yourself.
As Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based organization fostering the international interfaith youth movement, stated in his essay from the NPR essay, This I Believe, “Action is what separates a belief from an opinion”.
Gabrielle Moran is a rising junior at Oakland Catholic High School. She has worked with the Teens for Change board on youth-led social change. In addition to her goals and work to promote social change, Gabrielle enjoys nothing more than planning a party, perusing artwork, and a good cappuccino.