Young People Who Inspire Me (Part Two)

A commentary on social activism.

In my last post, Young People Who Inspire Me (Part One), I talked about Greta Thunberg, Áine Peterson, and Malala Yousafzai, three young people who inspire because they are making an impact in our world. I would like to continue with that same theme.

Greta Thunberg

First, an update on 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. She is participating in the first ever Youth Climate Action Summit which brings youth climate campaigners together from more than 140 countries and territories to share their solutions to climate change on the global stage, and deliver a message to world leaders that we need to act now.

In her address to the UN Youth Climate Summit, she said, “Yesterday, millions of people across the globe marched and demanded real climate action, especially young people. We showed that we are united and that we, young people, are unstoppable.” (see Greta delivers message). Her phrase, “young people are unstoppable,” caught my attention and I hope she is right since it is the youth that have  the most to lose.

CBC’s article, Protest for Climate Action, reported that millions of youth were taking to the streets in roughly 150 countries around the world on September 20,  as part of a global strike demanding world leaders gathering at a UN climate summit to adopt urgent measures to avert an environmental catastrophe. This worldwide strike was inspired by Greta, and these were her words to the demonstrators in New York:

“Right now, we are the ones who are making a difference. If no one else will take action, then we will…We demand a safe future. Is that really too much to ask?”

I am excited about what is happening, as it gives me hope for change. I believe the world must change and UN Secretary-General António Guterres who spoke at the UN Youth Climate Summit said it best when he said,

“I have granddaughters. I want them to live in a livable planet. My generation has a huge responsibility. It is your generation that must hold us accountable to make sure we don’t betray the future of humankind.”

I don’t have grandchildren yet, but I want my children and future grandchildren “to live in a livable planet.” I’ve seen many science fiction movies that portrayed an uninhabitable world because we humans left the planet in ruins. The UN Secretary-General is right. The youth must hold my generation accountable. Let’s be honest; my, and previous generations, have exploited planet Earth for profits. American politician, Bernie Sanders, said, “What a disgrace that it takes a 16 year-old to tell world leaders what they won’t acknowledge.” He is right! So, I say, bravo, to Greta. I support your cause and wish you success.

Craig Kielburger, age 12

Craig Kielburger, a Canadian human rights activist and social entrepreneur, is another young person who inspires me. I used him as an example  of how one person can make a difference when I taught high school Social Studies. He is the co-founder, with his brother Marc Kielburger, of WE Charity, as well as WE Day.  In 2008, Kielburger was named a Member of the Order of Canada.

Craig Kielburger’s story starts in 1995, when at age 12 years old, he saw the headline, Battled child labour, boy, 12, murdered, in the Toronto Star newspaper. This was a story about a young Pakistani boy, a child labourer, turned child-rights activist who was killed for speaking out against the carpet industry. Kielburger did research on child labour and asked his grade seven teacher to speak to his classmates on the topic. Several students wanted to help, and the group of pre-teens started “Kids Can Free the Children” (later named WE Charity).

In December that same year, Kielburger travelled to Asia to see for himself the conditions of child labourers. While there, he learnt that then Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, was travelling to India. He requested to meet with Mr. Chrétien, and was initially denied.  Kielburger was granted 15 minutes with Chretien, and he advocated for Canadian action on the issue of child labour, making headlines across Canada and internationally.  Kielburger attracted international media attention with features on 60 Minutes and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Remember, this young man was 12 years old when he was inspired to act against injustice. I have taught many 12 year-olds, and don’t recall any of them being that aware of injustice in the world.

Time Magazine’s article, The School Shooting Generation Has Had Enough, tells the story of the Never again MSD movement. The days after the Parkland shooting—On February 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire with a AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others—Parkland kids publicly called out the NRA’s influence on national politics, and shamed the leaders they considered responsible for the nation’s slack gun laws.

Cameron Kasky in centre

The Never Again MSD group was co-formed by Cameron Kasky and his high school friends in the first four days after the shooting.  After a vigil, Kasky invited Wind and Whitney (the other cofounders) to his house, and they came up with the name “Never Again.” The next three days after the shooting, the group gained over 35,000 followers on Facebook. The group organized a nationwide protest on March 24, 2018, where nearly a million kids across the country left class for the National School Walkout to protest the school-shooting epidemic.

The Never Again group has lost the attention of the media and is no longer making headlines. Since the groups inception, many attempts to discredit the Never Again movement have been attempted in the form of verbal attacks and misinformation by right-wing Republican leaders. Wikipedia provides specifics.

Many have spoken out about school shootings. Here are some of the most noteworthy in my opinion. Richard Patrick, an American musician, singer and songwriter, said:

“We live in a crazy time. Every other week, there’s a school shooting. There’s always some nutty thing and I’ve always wanted to kind of understand the crazy.”

Florence Yared, a Parkland school shooting survivor, spoke in Tallahassee, Florida. This was where five people were shot and wounded at the University Village Shopping Center. She passionately said:

“The right to bear arms … does not and never will overpower the individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…We cannot protect our guns before we protect our children.”

Brandon Wolf, Pulse nightclub shooting survivor, also spoke in Tallahassee. He said:

“After first graders were gunned down at Sandy Hook, what did you do? Not a damn thing. After 49 people, including my two brothers, were murdered at Pulse, what did you do? Not a damn thing. You plugged your ears and turned your eyes and hoped that we would stop talking. Now we’re here again. 17 people are dead. 14 of them are children. And what did you do yesterday when given the chance to do something about it? Not a damn thing.”

According to Wikipedia, there have been 28 school shootings in 2019, and that doesn’t include the many that have been thwarted. The young people behind the Never Again MSD movement have just cause.

Young people—high school aged when they started—are leading the way for change and speaking out against injustice. Why? Because they have Didaskaleinophobia, the fear of school or fear of going to school. An American High School student, Jillian French, said, “We shouldn’t have to be scared (when we leave for school) that we are not going back home.” Like Greta Thunberg, high school aged youth have to tell leaders in the U.S. what they won’t acknowledge.

I applaud these young people, support their cause, and wish them success! Thank God for youth! They just might save the world.

Young People Who Inspire Me (Part One)

A commentary on impressive young people.

Often, my commentaries are about something negative happening in the world, and there are no shortage of those stories. The other day I was watching CTV News and they reported on 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, arriving in New York City to attend a conference on global warming. A while back, I saw a video of this young lady’s speech to the U.N, and she inspired me then.

Now, I’ve spent a career working with young people, and I’ve taught many who inspired me to be a better person. I’ve also taught many who were troubled and not so inspiring. Today’s youth are often portrayed as “bad news” by much of the media and it seems to be the ‘bad ones’ who make the headlines. On August 28, CBC ran this headline; Verdict in October for youth accused of shooting German tourist west of Calgary. In July the country was consumed with this story: How 3 killings in B.C. turned into the cross-Canada pursuit of 2 teenagers. There are no shortage of stories about “bad youth.” It made me wonder about the “good youth?” It seems the youth who are making a difference in our world are seldom recognized, so this post is dedicated to the “youth who inspire me.” Allow me to introduce some of them.

First, I’ll start with 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. I first heard about Greta when I saw a video of her U.N. speech when she was 15 years old. If you haven’t seen it, here it is.

This is Greta’s story according to Wikipedia. Thunberg says she first heard about climate change in 2011, when she was 8 years old, and could not understand why so little was being done about it. Three years later she became depressed and stopped talking.

In 2018, at the age of 15, Thunberg took time off school to demonstrate outside the Swedish parliament holding up a sign calling for bold climate action. Her “school strike for the climate” began attracting media attention and other students then engaged in similar protests in their own communities. Thunberg addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, and she has inspired student strikes that took place every week somewhere in the world. In 2019, there were at least two coordinated multi-city protests involving over one million students each. I can’t help but admire these students who are standing up for the planet. Why wouldn’t they, since they are the ones who will inherit the mess my, and previous generations, left for them.

This teen is a much needed “mover and a shaker” on an issue our political leaders are ‘dragging their feet’ on. Why is climate change being touted as ‘not a big deal’ by many political leaders? Because of money, because making changes affects the economy, and likely the biggest reason, to maintain the lifestyle of the wealthily. The United Nations has said that “climate change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment.” Thank God for Greta Thunberg because she is motivating our youth to speak out, and take action; Greta has given young people a voice. I applaud this young lady!

CBC News has a story, Climate activist Greta Thunberg lands in New York harbour after Atlantic voyage, The 16-year-old landed in New York after crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a zero-emissions sailboat to attend a conference on global warming. She is set to speak at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. The teenager refused to fly to New York to avoid a plane’s fossil-fuel emissions. This is a 16-year-old with integrity; a person who lives by what she preaches.

Global News reported a few days later that People’s Party of Canada Leader (a leader of a new political party in Canada) Maxime Bernier attempted to discredit Greta Thunberg by calling her “mentally unstable.” Mr. Bernier is one of those political leaders who thinks Climate Change is being exaggerated. Essentially, he is a Climate Change denier.

From CNN

CNN has a story entitled, A 7-year-old wants to build a wall to highlight kindness around the world. The article explains that when 7-year-old Áine Peterson saw images of child migrants being detained at the US-Mexico border, she had to speak out about injustices in the world. The article says, “While some politicians see a divisive wall as a solution to the immigration crisis, Áine, who calls herself ‘the Kind Crusader,’ envisions a wall to bring people together. All the art work she is asking for has to be revolved around kindness, like giving shelter to those in need.” Aine says in a video promoting her campaign, “I want to put together a kindness wall, with art from people all around the world.”

Now I have taught 7-year-olds, and in my experience, this is no ordinary 7-year-old. No 7-year-old that I have worked with has a sense of injustice like Aine does. This is one special kid who deserves to be listened to. She is one to watch and is one who will have an impact on this world.

Another impressive young lady is Malala Yousafzai. She is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. She is known for her human rights advocacy, especially the education of women and children in her native Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school.

Here is her story according to Wikipedia. In early 2009, when she was 11, Malala wrote a blog detailing her life during the Taliban occupation of Swat Valley in Pakistan. She rose in prominence, giving interviews in print and on television. On October 9, 2012, after taking an exam, Malala Yousafzai and two other girls were shot by a Taliban gunman in an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism. The 15-year-old was hit in the head with a bullet and remained unconscious in critical condition. The attempt on her life sparked an international outpouring of support for her.

Following her recovery, Malala became a prominent activist for the right to education, especially for girls. She founded the Malala Fund, a non-profit organization. She was the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, and then aged 17, the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. In 2017, she was awarded honorary Canadian citizenship and became the youngest person to address the Canadian House of Commons of Canada.

This young lady is making a difference in this world. She comes from a part of the world where females were, and maybe still are, denied a basic human right of education. Article 26, of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, it says; “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” Malala is fighting for a basic human right. Sadly, we still live in world where the sexes are not equal and basic human rights are denied to some people. Those of the female gender are not treated equally to males. As Plato once allegedly said, “If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things.”

I applaud this young lady for her work to achieve equality between the genders. As Ban Ki-moon, the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations, said, “Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, girls and boys. It is everyone’s responsibility.” Malala deserves to be recognized for her important work.

These are three young people who I admire for their bravery and passion. I will introduce others in my next post.