Sat | Nov 28, 2020

Davell O’Connor | We must address current climate of disparity of youth leadership

Published:Wednesday | November 18, 2020 | 12:10 AMDavell O’Connor/Contributor
Ask the average youth on the street if they are aware of any of these ‘prominent’ youth leaders and their respective organisations and you will be met with blank stares.
Ask the average youth on the street if they are aware of any of these ‘prominent’ youth leaders and their respective organisations and you will be met with blank stares.

Although Jamaica’s youth leadership space has been active for quite some time now, it is a far cry from the reality we wish to see, as it relates to the development of our Jamaican youth.

I now seek to highlight my personal views on a few areas that need serious intervention from Government and all involved stakeholders.

Our youth are an important aspect of Jamaica’s drive to realise a future where Jamaica is seen as a progressive nation, and equally so are all the youth leaders who represent them. Therefore, I wish to shed some light on the apparent trend where only youth leaders affiliated with the major tertiary institutions in Jamaica are given meaningful opportunities, both locally and internationally, to voice their concerns and to participate in the governance of the country.

As a youth leader myself, I take issue with this due to the fact that these persons do not truly represent the entire youth collective in Jamaica. The main argument for this is the fact that they can only speak for a relatively small subsection of the population, which, mostly, are privileged youth and the persons attending these institutions.

The second argument is that most, if not all, have no form of contact with the remaining youth population. Ask the average youth on the street if they are aware of any of these ‘prominent’ youth leaders and their respective organisations and you will be met with blank stares.

I also wish to point out that the climate of disparity within the youth leadership space in Jamaica has, and if allowed to continue on its current path, will inadvertently cause the disenfranchisement of our youth to progress even further than how it is now, creating more underserved youth and even elevating the present level of at-risk youth in the country.

This, reader, is the antithesis of Positive Youth Development, not to mention the fact that it also contradicts goals four, five and six of the National Youth Policy of Jamaica.

Youth leadership, on its own, is not directly responsible. But the practice surrounding it is. To clarify, in Jamaica, youth who had the opportunity to attend the traditional learning institutions, or get to attend university, are the ones who get the most opportunity to advance themselves in society. They get a lot of exposure that highlights their talents and skills, compared to the remaining youth who are not a part of these institutions.

What this creates is an environment where there is unequal access to opportunities for many of our Jamaican youth to empower themselves, and it is the same as it specifically applies to our youth leaders and their representation.

MORE COMMUNITY YOUTH LEADERS

Time and time again we keep seeing these select groups of persons, with it being said that they voice the concerns of our youth, when in truth they voice the concerns of a select few, while the remainder of our youth remain unheard and, because no one is listening, silenced. This is the cause of their disenfranchisement and why they are being left behind by society.

I am not saying that no effort has been made to engage youth leaders or youth in general from other areas of society, but I put it to you: are these efforts enough and are they even meaningful in the long term?

In order for the country to effect positive youth development, engagement of young people from all levels of society needs to be done and not just in academia. We need to see more community youth leaders being allowed to represent at the national and international levels, as they represent a greater cross section of the youth population, compared to persons in student leadership positions. This will increase diversity and result in greater accuracy of youth representation.

KEY GOALS

Also, the Government and all involved stakeholders need to take seriously the National Youth Policy, particularly these areas:

GOAL 4: Youth Participation – Have increased engagement of youth from the community and not solely at the tertiary level. This should address the issue of the lack of cultural and civic awareness among young people.

GOAL 5: Social Inclusion & Re-Integration – Reach more at-risk and vulnerable youth from rural areas as well as youth of varied abilities, and not just in academia.

GOAL 6: Professionalisation & Strengthening of the Youth Sector – Provide legislative and institutional support in order to provide expertise (youth workers) to better meet the needs of young people.

We cannot become a progressive nation without the involvement of all our youth, especially those that represent them and not just solely in academia. We must understand that a small, select group cannot speak for or represent the entire youth population of Jamaica, therefore, the current climate of disparity that exists within our youth leadership space needs to be addressed, by making the national and international youth platforms be more welcoming of our grassroots community youth leaders.

Adherence to the National Youth Policy must be our mandate and, in doing this, will alleviate the problem of youth disenfranchisement and to promote Positive Youth Development.

Davell O’Connor is treasurer of the St Catherine Parish Youth Council; president of the St Catherine Youth Club; Youth Parliamentarian 2019 (St Catherine South Central); and pursuing programme and project management (BSc) at the The International University of the Caribbean. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com