The following speaks to why I feel it’s important to involve youth in the process of making anything for youth and how there is a gap in creating a space for that to happen.
If you are not me, how can you know what I want or need?
I have found the meaningfulness of being asked the simple question of trying to know what I want or what I need to be diluted as the target audience shifts from me to we. Too often have I felt my own voice get watered down amongst the masses. Sometimes to the point where I am no longer motivated in participating in such efforts to include my two cents in a census.
Is this the result of the systems in our society? Could it be a limitation of the structures in our society where time constraints are a reality and when trying to understand the needs of most individuals in a short time span we yield quantity but not quality? Or is it the nature of the challenge of trying to meet the needs of everyone, such that everyone receives ‘shoes’ but for some the ‘shoes’ don’t fit?
I do believe that it is well understood in our society of the importance of including those we aim to serve in the process. I mean, wouldn’t it be weird if I went to a restaurant and the food was given to me first, prior to them asking me what I had wanted?
When it comes to youth, youth know what their barriers and challenges are, they also know what would work for them. They are them and I am me. Like the many snowflakes that Yellowknife sees during the winter season, each youth and story is unique. But much like how snowflakes melt in the sun, there can be some commonalities amongst the youth that may be relevant to everyone. But if their voices aren't heard, how will we know? This is why youth voices matter. This is why we need to ask youth and involve youth in the matter. Afterall, some of the best meals that truly ‘hit the spot’ include the simple question “do you want fries with that?”
The challenge I have found has been in creating that safe space that empowers youth and gives youth voices, in whatever form it comes in, an opportunity to be meaningfully heard. Communities are the experts and my role as an individual with a certain skill set, privilege and platform is to facilitate, mediate, connect, and support. Having a supportive safe space to empower youth to encourage youth voices to be shared, is something that I have rarely seen and is something I hope to co-create with youth and the community that cares.