”I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled …” Jonathan Swift
Rhetoric around both the literal and abstract concept of “lives” has inundated most Americans via mass media in the last year. Since the Black Lives Matter Movement and Black Spring have erupted, discussions about which lives matter, matter most, or matter most immediately have become central to daily conversations. Teachers, professors, news anchors, activists, writers, etc. have weighed in on which “lives” we should all consider most valuable and when. Polemics declaring “Black Lives Matter” fill our social media feeds, retorts declaring “All Lives Matter” quickly follow, satirical pieces proclaiming “All Lion Lives Matter” have also made their way onto our screens and finally, the new decree that “Police Lives Matter” has emerged in response to recent police officer killings highlighted in the media.
But, in all of these “lives matter” discussions, very little has been said about youth; Black youth, Latino youth, Native youth, etc., youth who struggle daily to navigate schools, communities, institutions, places in which many may have little to no agency or advocacy. Maybe I haven’t been watching closely enough, maybe i’ve missed it, but I have yet to hear someone declare or proclaim that “Young Lives Matter”. Some might argue that the movement ultimately benefits our youth as they have a stake in the future it will create, others might argue that youth are at the center of these movements, that this is, in fact, a youth movement and in that way, they are being addressed. If either of these points are correct, then why has no one clearly declared that “Young Lives Matter”? Why have I not heard it proclaimed that education be examined? Why have the movements who claim to be working on behalf of our future, done very little to critique or even access schools, where most of our youth can be found? The education system is the root of many of the issues we see played out in our society. Education reform rhetoric consistently uses youth of color as it’s poster children, promising to level the playing field. Yet, outcomes consistently tell us that charter schools, temporary teachers (TFA), Common Core, and increased standardized testing have done little to ensure that minoritized youth have the support and access they deserve. America eats it’s babies. We see the evidence in unaddressed and systemic poverty, urban gentrification, health and medical disparities and most importantly, in education.
Most recently, Dr. Shaun Harper’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at Penn GSE released a report on the overwhelming number of suspensions among Black youth in southern schools. We know these suspensions result in lack of educational access, that they feed the school-to-prison pipeline and that they often mirror much of what we see playing out in many of these viral videos illustrating interactions with police.
As a mentor and educator, working daily to facilitate educational progress, access and success among youth, I posit that Young Lives Matter, not just in the past, not just presently, but always. And they matter in ineffable ways that many of us can’t see, either because we don’t have children or we don’t work with them, or we choose to ignore them. Young Lives Matter and require a critical education and positive upbringing with parents who love and provide for them, mentors who support and care about them, teachers dedicated to empowering and teaching them, schools and communities who foster opportunities for them, politicians who create policies that assist them, and so on. Until we declare that youth truly matter and begin in action, not just in rhetoric, to address their needs, our movements will bear very little fruit.