Someday isn’t a day of the week: Engaging youth leaders today

The role adults play in increasing youth leadership capacity in the here and now.

Recently, a newsletter from Good Food Jobs caught my attention, despite the fact that this website’s mission and content aren’t related to the work I do at Michigan State University Extension. It was entitled “Someday isn’t a day of the week.”

Someday is not a day of the week. What does that statement make you think? Upon reading that title, I took immediate action by copying it down and posting it on my office wall. As I sit at my desk in Justin S. Morrill Hall of Agriculture and think about the work that I do, my passions and what lessons are most necessary for me to help new generations experience, this statement is a common thread. Someday is not a day of the week.

Now let’s rewind slightly. I am an educator for MSU Extension, the community arm of the University, and I work to help youth around the state develop the leadership skills they need to be active citizens. The absolute joy of my job is that so many different topics fall under my umbrella. I facilitate workshops on one specific skill, such as conflict resolution, and get to coordinate statewide programs that help youth develop a lot of these transdisciplinary skills by working from a lens, such as 4-H Capitol Experience. There is one theme that encompasses all the work I do and all the things I love about my job: empowering youth voice.

Empowering youth voice is the reason my job gets to evolve from year to year, the reason I am inspired every day to keep doing what I do. As a young person who was highly involved in extra-curricular activities, 4-H and community leadership positions, the one thing I never understood was how determined adults were to pigeonhole my leadership abilities to “the future.” Now that I’ve graduated from college and graduate school and have a great job, my power status has changed. I am now an adult. “The future” has come and now is the time I can be a leader.

So I’m jumping in with both feet. I’ve made the conscious decision that through my work with youth, I will help communities realize that someday isn’t a day of the week. Today. Now. This is the time we should be showing our young people they matter. Showing youth their ideas and perspectives are valuable and can ignite positive change; that they have the capacity to be the leaders of today and into tomorrow, rather than just tomorrow.

This is the time that we, as adults, need to strive to shift the power dynamic and work in partnership with youth. We need to intentionally engage with the young people in our lives in ways that help them cultivate the skills they need to succeed, as well as the self-awareness and sense of worth to be resilient when they don’t. I’m living my professional life as an advocate for youth voice. Invite youth to the table. Listen to what they have to say. Let them make mistakes and help them reflect to grow from them. These are the principles I encourage you to build into your philosophy for engaging with the young people around you. Someday isn’t a day of the week. Let’s redefine the role of youth in our homes, schools and communities. Let’s engage youth leaders today.

For more information on this, join me on my MSU Alumni Association webinar, “Engaging Student Leaders in Classroom and Community,” on July 16, 2015 at 12:30 p.m. Free registration is available.

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