‘To guess at the future’
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it this week. Pick any of the crises unfolding around the world — the war in Ukraine, the upending of reproductive rights in America, the latest wave of so-called “freedom” protests, taking place as I write this, on the eve of a day celebrating our complicated national history — there’s lots to make you sad, furious and/or frustrated. But every now and then, we’re all entitled to a good news break, so I’m not going to focus on the above.
Instead, I’m going to tell you about how I was a very underwhelming teen in high school. I occasionally skipped class and spent a lot of my free time figuring out how to look cool wearing a skirt over jeans. (I never did.) The most daring thing I attempted at that age was cutting my own bangs. In short, I wasn’t particularly remarkable, and I’ve been rambling to my co-worker Morgan Sharp about this for the past few weeks because a big part of their job reporting on young people and the issues that affect them involves talking to today’s teens. And let me tell you, today’s teens are incredible.
This is partly out of necessity. Gen Z is coming of age in an increasingly unstable world shaped by everything from inequality to climate change to systemic injustice. They didn’t create the crises bearing down on their generation, but they know no one else is going to fix things for them. Even though every one of us — young, old or in between — has a part to play in making the world a better place, today’s young people are leading the way and showing us all what a kinder, safer, more compassionate future looks like.
This week, I asked Morgan a few questions about what it’s like to cover the youth beat and why everyone should care about how young people are shaping the world today. Their answers were exactly what I needed to hear after a tough week; if you need to feel uplifted in a few paragraphs, read on.
As always, you can let me know what you think of this newsletter at [email protected]. I can’t respond to every message that comes in, but I do read them all.
Take care, stay safe and have a restful long weekend!
— Dana Filek-Gibson
‘To guess at the future’
Not long after the first bombs fell on Ukraine, Paris Cai and the dozens of high school volunteers behind HomeworkHub put two and two together. They knew the violence would upend the lives of millions, including Ukrainian teenagers. An ocean away, students would be driven from their homes and across borders, forced to start over somewhere else.
So Cai and her peers did what they could to help. With an internet connection and a particularly organized team of young people, HomeworkHub began to offer online English tutoring to young Ukrainians around the world. It was simple: students needed English help, HomeworkHub had tutors.
“We just thought we could give them an extra hand,” Cai, the group’s 16-year-old founder, told Morgan a month after the war began.
This matter-of-fact approach comes up a lot in Morgan’s reporting. Since the start of the pandemic, they’ve talked to a plethora of young, capable problem-solvers, from the Mi'kmaw woman working to boost vaccination rates in Indigenous communities to the university student documenting the fight to foster food sovereignty in Toronto’s Black community to the teenagers spending their after-school hours searching for the key to male birth control. More often than not, the young people they interview are working to make the world a better place for all. Which is why, Morgan explains, people of all ages should be listening to what youth have to say.
“People should care because young people care. And what they have to say matters, and it is not heard loudly enough,” they tell me.
“Young people deserve agency over their own lives now, not least because their priorities would likely improve outcomes for everyone in society. They are an untapped resource, if we want to use such extractive language.”
Today’s youth have been dealt a tough hand. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down life as we knew it just as the first wave of Gen Z graduates was preparing to enter the workforce. Climate anxiety has taken a heavy emotional toll on young people and even reshaping the way they view school and work. But despite these challenges and more, they have risen to the occasion.
“A lot of young people see the intersecting issues that make life more difficult for what they are and decide to pull on one of those threads (in some cases literally) that weave the whole thing together,” Morgan says. “So they are working on specific solutions to certain problems in a larger framework, and that encourages collaboration over competition. When you want to fix something, it's helpful to see other people fixing things, even if they're not exactly your things, and sometimes you can help.”
Still, making change hasn’t been without its setbacks. Last year, Morgan met a young economist, Vladislav Kaim, who explained what he called “the futurization of youth.”
“People in power claim to act in the best interests of a future group, even though that group is already suffering the consequences of the previous generations’ actions and inactions and has some expertise and experience of their own to add,” Morgan tells me.
Which may explain why so many young people have become adept at finding ways to speak directly to power. Protests and social media campaigns are important for raising awareness, but young people around the globe are also demanding an audience with some of the most powerful players on the planet — from government officials to UN delegates to high-powered banking executives — and they’re learning the complicated languages of policy, climate science and finance to do it. How they’re approaching today’s problems says a lot about what the future holds, Morgan adds.
“Young people are just old people before they've happened, except that ‘youth’ is also just such a different place than ‘adult,’” they explain. “It's all possibility and first attempts and redos, and I can't make people care about young people any more than I can make them care about anything else, but to know where they're at is to guess at the future.
“So to see some of them doing amazing things despite living through an ongoing pandemic and a looming climate catastrophe — and all the other crises the world throws at them — is inspiring. Those who have overcome barriers should be celebrated, and the systems that keep those barriers in place must be critiqued.”
If young people have anything to do with it, those barriers are on their way out. I asked Morgan what messages they hear from young people when they’re reporting that other generations need to hear, too. Their answer was short:
“Move over, we got this.”
Read more of Morgan’s reporting here: