Young people have tremendous insight into the world around them. They pay close attention to the issues that affect them and those around them. They recognize when change is needed and are willing to do what they can to make the world around them a better place.
At 4‑H, we believe in the power of young people and their desire to do. That desire to do stems from their passion for giving back, creating change, and sharing their voice.
In my new “Youth Voices” series, I feature topics of equity, inclusion, and access through the perspective of teens who have first-hand experience or insights in the matter.
This month, I feature Emma Newell, Ohio 4‑H alumna, National 4‑H Council Young Alumni Advisory Committee member, and self-proclaimed ally. Emma’s instinct to speak up and advocate for those around her who face discrimination is why her peers gave her that title before she realized she was an ally.
“I never realized who I was to my friends and family until they told me,” she explains. “They showed me my actions through their lenses. I never understood the impact my wave made before this.”
Here’s how her wave to becoming an ally went from one that was subconscious to intentional.
I started this journey by doing something so simple–sitting and listening to my friends. Just like in any close relationship, they shared their hardships with me. As someone in a privileged position, I could never imagine what they were experiencing and what they continue to experience. I didn’t pretend to understand. I listened with the intention of learning and supporting.
Once I became knowledgeable about the adversity they face, I became more aware of it within my surroundings. I would notice the micro-aggressive comments, the dirty looks, and the outright hatred being spewed at them daily. Before, I would have just walked by and not blinked twice. This didn’t mean I was a bad person—just naïve. I started to see that it is my personal responsibility to become more aware of the diverse population that surrounds me.
As I began to observe these challenges from a third-party perspective, I could identify the injustice easily. It stuck out like a sore thumb. I knew I needed to take action. It started with correcting people in conversation, to make them aware of hurtful comments. Though I’ve certainly encountered deliberately unkind people, I’ve also had conversations with those who, because of their privilege, don’t understand that their words are hurtful. I aim to take the time needed to build understanding and to encourage others to be actively aware of our diverse population. From these personal conversations, my commitment grew to a much larger scale.
As a result of her commitment, Emma joined a committee to assist in educating friends, faculty, and staff in 4‑H about the LGBTQ+ community, which led to the creation of the Ohio 4‑H LGBTQ+ Summit. Through her work, she has learned how to best advocate for this group, create a safe space for them, and join the fight for equal rights.
“It is one thing to self-identify as an ally,” she expresses, “and another to be given the name. You have to walk the talk and be willing to be uncomfortable at times. You never know who is listening and the impact you will leave.”
So how do you create a wave of support and advocacy? Emma recommends you do the following: “Create an inclusive environment by identifying yourself as a safe person. Make efforts to reach out to others to check-in. Correct someone’s nasty comment. Create programming specific to the needs of minorities.”