Fix disparity within the youth leadership space

Fix disparity within the youth leadership space

Davell O'Connor

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

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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.

Our youth are an important aspect of Jamaica's drive to realise a future in which Jamaica is seen as a progressive nation, and equally so all our youth leaders must see themselves being represented therein. Therefore, I wish to shed some light on the apparent trend, wherein 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 individuals 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 those 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 so-called 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 it is now, creating more underserved youth and even elevating the present level of at-risk youth in the country.

This is the antithesis of positive youth development, not to mention the fact that it also contradicts Goal 4, Goal 5, and Goal 6 of the National Youth Policy of Jamaica.

Youth leadership, on its own, is not directly responsible. But the practices surrounding it are. 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 in which there is unequal access to opportunities for many of our Jamaican youth to empower themselves.

Time and time again we keep seeing these select groups of people, with it being said that they voice the concerns of all 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 suggesting that no effort has been made to engage youth leaders, or youth in general, from other areas of society, but I must ask the question: 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 people in student leadership positions. This will increase diversity and result in greater accuracy of youth representation.

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 and reintegration – 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 and 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 who 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 more welcoming of our grass-roots community youth leaders.

Adherence to the National Youth Policy must be our mandate, and doing this will alleviate the problem of youth disenfranchisement and promote positive youth development. My only wish is to raise awareness about the issues at hand and hopefully see them addressed.

Davell O'Connor is a youth advocate who has held several youth leadership positions. The views expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of any organisation with which he is affiliated. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or davelloconnor@gmail.com.


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