AMONG THE powerful young agents of change that took to stages across the US last Saturday was a tiny nine-year-old girl, who, with a joyous smile, brought the tens of thousands of supporters of the March for Our Lives movement to chant. Like her grandfather, Martin Luther King, she had a dream. Little Yolanda Renee King’s dream was “that this should be a gun-free world, period” and the massive crowd chanted repeatedly to her lead, “Spread the word. Have you heard? All across the nation, we, are going to be, a great generation!”
In no small measure, this movement led by the energy, commitment and mature tactics of the Florida students and their supporters is proving to be the uplifting counterbalance to the depressing reality of cynically manipulated democratic systems that can throw into leadership dangerous, self-aggrandising misfits.
For those who seek change, it is fascinating to observe the speed with which the March for Our Lives movement has spread and the profound impact it is having. In some cases, children are getting their parents to sign contracts to ensure that the parents remember to support their children’s gun control efforts when they go to vote in the mid-term elections. Clearly these young people understand processes of change and they are employing those processes to influence a better life for themselves; for us all, frankly.
What brought these young people together with such power and direction? Certainly, 17 children killed in six short minutes is a significant driver of change because, indeed, enough is enough. What was the tipping point, though? Is it not the same in this country? How many of our children have been thrust from childhood into a state of confused, angry and hurting adulthood by gun violence?
The tipping point for a social movement such as this has to be a confluence of pain and empowerment. Not only were the Florida students motivated to demand change because of the hurt of losing their friends, but they felt fit for purpose and able to do so.
Of course, not all children in the United States feel as empowered. There is no doubt that some have more opportunity than others, get more encouragement than others and feel safer than others to step forward. The tipping point however is in the numbers. Clearly, there are enough children across the country with enough educational, community and parental support to empower a generation of change-makers.
Can we say the same? Do we as a country empower our young people in enough numbers so that they can influence and support each other to bring us to that state of constructive “enough is enough?” Or is it that we have created systems where the majority of our young people are, in fact, disempowered; where their pain is so much more than their ability to feel hope; where the way through to a better life seems blocked by a sense of injustice, by gang violence and poor parenting; where their voice has no outlet?
Yes, the top achieving students of the top achieving schools in this country can stand confidently side by side with any other young person in the world. It is also true that some of those young people may even, on graduating, consider returning to or staying in this country to help it grow.
However, what about those young people who comprise the vast majority of the children in Trinidad and Tobago for whom there are no such opportunities? Successive governments have undervalued the importance of education and as a country we celebrate achievement of the tiny minority, shirking away from our responsibility to the rest. Boys’ educational underachievement, for example, is significant and growing with no apparent strategy to reverse this worrisome trend.
Tribute must be paid to those in leadership who have deliberately focused on children, such as former President Carmona who visited schools, talking to the students and bringing students from all across the country to visit with him in his office.
He was not alone. Huge efforts have been made by the Chief Justice and others to create the Children Court and the Attorney General is heavily invested in supporting the Children’s Authority. Tribute should be paid, too, to some teachers, whose dedication is way, way beyond the call of duty; teachers who impact children’s lives profoundly, simply because they care.
However, the problem is deep, and it is systemic. A few well-intentioned people cannot hope to reverse the disturbing trends. More to the point, it is a national responsibility to protect our children from violence, to build their confidence, to give them voice. So, spread the word. Our children need our help. We must not stop until they are empowered. They deserve to be our great generation.