Young people have the passion and energy needed to make real change in their communities and to help move the needle, albeit slowly and in fits and starts, for the world at large.
A group of 130 young writers from around the world are getting together to do just that this week, attending The International Congress of Youth Voices in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
This is the second year for the event, which focuses not only on letting these young activists share their stories, but helps them learn how to communicate their concerns and their priorities on a global scale, making their issues resonate on a larger level with people who have very different backgrounds.
The congress grew out of 826 Centers, a writing organization with a presence in 27 countries, where Amanda Uhle worked with the congress’ co-founder and the creator of the centers, David Eggers.
“We believed there was this great power in getting young people together, physically, in the same space,” she says. “We know young people have important perspectives and thought there’d be great power in uniting them.”
The congress is supported in large part by News-Decoder, “an effort to help young people around the world better understand big international issues and become better global citizens,” says Nelson Graves, the organization’s founder. It was created after Graves, a former journalist and teacher, saw many of his international correspondent friends “out to pasture” after taking buyouts. News-Decoder “brings experienced, skilled foreign correspondents together with young people to help broaden their perspective and learn from each other.”
Writers in News-Decoder can help the young congress attendees understand how to portray their ideas in a way that limits bias and preconceived notions, creating persuasive pieces that are suited for an international audience.
Among the central topics of this year’s event: Climate change, immigration and gun control.
Immigration and gun safety are “two issues the young people in our partnership and beyond are very concerned about, primarily because they’re existential issues. Along with climate change, these are existential issues that call into question a young person’s sense of identity,” Graves says. “Immigration has a direct relationship with a young person’s definition of self and sense of identity. … Guns represent a physical threat, particularly in the United States where there have been so many shootings at schools.”
News-Decoder “offers this incredible platform for our students to publish their work,” Uhle says.
Some of the congress attendees from last year worked with News-Decoder staffers to publish their work, both from the United States and internationally.
“It’s such a great match. I think we all see that young people come to us with knowledge and passion,” Uhle say. “It’s true of the youth writing centers. The gap is having young people think about their audience and who they’re writing for and to. Having experienced journalists like Nelson’s organization does is a tremendous asset for a young writer who needs to frame writing in terms of who’s going to read this and how do I sway them to my opinion.”
Amanda Uhle of the International Congress of Youth Voices and Nelson Graves of News-Decoder join producer Michael O’Connell to discuss this year’s conference and why giving young people support when speaking on issues of importance to them is the most important role adults can serve.