Few would disagree that the world is an uncertain place, rife with pitfalls and risk. It is especially challenging for young people to envision a positive future.
Kristin Rothballer, the first Director of the Bioneers Youth Leadership Program (YLP), expressed it this way, “Youth are now defined by ecological crises in a way that past generations have not been.” In addition, social justice issues are boiling over and social norms especially around gender and identity are dynamic, creating emotional upheaval and political discord.
These stark realities present serious challenges, but, if approached in ways that are enlivening and not discouraging, can offer opportunity. Bioneers co-founder Kenny Ausubel said, “Together we can lead the world from breakdown to breakthrough.” That’s not just a rallying cry, it is a biological reality.
Fertility for new life emerges from the decay and compost of the old. Decedent economic and social systems that only serve the powerful few at the detriment of the many, must fall to make room for vigorous life-affirming new growth. And young people are one of the world’s greatest assets to help that transformation.
For 17 years, YLP has been building a cultural bridge for diverse youth to be an active part of the Bioneers creative sphere of solutions and kinship. This year over 500 youth attended Bioneers, 408 on scholarship and about half of those were people of color.
This ongoing process is helping us deepen our understanding that learning, mentoring, and inspiration are not linear, but circular with the energy flowing inter-generationally, interracially, cross-culturally and across the gender spectrum. The YLP through the Community of Mentors program, facilitated by Weaving Earth, offers peer-to-peer mentoring as well as opportunities for small groups of youth to be in dialogue with some of the luminaries who speak at the conference.
The YLP works to help youth understand difference with honesty and respect while offering opportunities to develop the skills that enable youth to join arms collaboratively to build a broader base of common ground for the common good. Conference workshop How Young Entrepreneurs Can Help Lead Social Change, facilitated by Youth Impact Hub Oakland, shared ways to create a new economy that is more equitable. The Soil for Life workshop, an Earth Guardian initiative, provided hands on learning about the importance of soil with activities on seed-ball making, a theatre performance, storytelling, and self-care.
Youth at Bioneers represent a wide range of socio-economic, cultural, and familial backgrounds and experiences. Working with sensitive, complex, personal and social issues can create flash points. Trauma and pain surface in search of healing. The opportunity to view oneself in a completely new light is also possible. Some of Laurie Marshall’s Singing Tree youth artists, for example, are homeless or come from abusive households. Exhibiting their beautiful work, and interacting with an appreciative and acknowledging Bioneers community, can be more than just a passing highlight for the weekend, it can be a powerful opportunity to reevaluate one’s self-worth. We welcome diverse youth to explore issues and connect with allies in the Youth of Color Caucus, and the LGBTQ Talking Circle. Both sessions offered a safe platform for youth to speak their truths, explore their identities, and claim their place in the climate and social justice movements.
Two young leaders who graced the main stage with youth plenaries, Naelyn Pike (below), a 17-year-old Chiricahua Apache activist; and DJ Cavem, an eco-hip hop artist, organic gardener, and wellness advocate, powerfully reaffirmed the importance and effectiveness of young creative activists.
The YLP offers a safe and brave space for youth to fully occupy; we invite their expression, their curiosity and their creativity to rearrange the old degenerative, unjust order and to create a vision and pathway for a future that is more spacious, inclusive, egalitarian and based on the wisdom and regenerative forces of nature.
The Poetry Slam is a powerful forum for the raw, passionate, honest, and unfiltered emotions that arose as young poets spoke about suicide, violence, resiliency, feminism, and social and climate justice.
These are some of the ways that the Bioneers YLP is engaging with youth to share learning and to support their development as emerging leaders that have the physical, emotional, and spiritual resilience to take a broken world and creatively participate in its healing.
Many youth have told us that Bioneers is a life-transforming experience. This year we raised about $20,000 to support youth scholarships to the Bioneers conference. That’s less than 20% of the cost. We need your help. Be the change, support Youth Leadership.
Please also take a moment to learn about our matching grant that will help us bring more youth scholars to the 2018 conference.