By Pamela Karch, Bridges’ Research Coordinator
The ability for youth to respond to some of the pressing social needs in their communities is reliant on individual agency – a person’s ability to understand themselves, their community, and the global environment while engaging in critical thinking, reflection, analysis, and action. At Bridges Social Development in our work with the Unveiling Youth Potential program, we have observed that this approach enables youth to not only understand individual and community conditions that have shaped their experiences, but also use this knowledge to formulate strategies to improve their own lives and the lives of those around them. This approach is closely aligned to the practice of praxis, defined by theorist Freire (1993) as the process of reflection about, action on, and transformation of environments and published in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Actions of change require personal development; to enable this, Bridges works with a specific three-pronged approach that focuses on the development of self-awareness, community/global-awareness, and change leadership. This approach supports the development of youth participants’ leadership potential, critical consciousness, and their capacity for action that leads to social change.
“The three-step approach of self, community, and global awareness operates to expand youth consciousness to higher levels of social criticality and human compassion” (Cammarota 2011, p. 829)
Participants of Bridges’ Unveiling Youth Potential program explore self-awareness through specific activities that turn the focus inward and to the past. This process is a self-reflective journey that is accomplished through the creation of timelines and the telling of stories, and culminates in the creation and sharing of one’s “Wisdom Story”. The exploration of character development, meaningful life events, and important people, and the recognition of how these do or do not define one’s present or future is an empowering process that allows for participants to not only explore who they are, but also bring to light their potential and capacity for growth.
Community Mapping is a tool used in Bridges’ Unveiling Youth Potential program to help participants map out the current reality of their community, organizing its various components (community assets and liabilities), and observing any patterns or interconnections. Community Mapping also provides space for youth to identify their place within their community, and better understand themselves within the context of the systems and relationships that comprise communities. Community Mapping helps to illustrate the fact that realizing one’s potential is not only about better understanding one’s self, but also about understanding one’s self as a unique community member – one who is affected by community, but who can also influence community. An individual’s personal story cannot be fully understood without understanding the story of the community of which they are a part.
Humans have the potential to drive change within their own communities and within the broader community spaces they share. When youth come to recognize their potential and their capacity to be catalysts of change, leaders of change, or to even acknowledge places where change may be needed is where the work towards healthier and more resilient communities continues. These leaders and supporters of change are enabled to help create options and opportunities for community members that result in a better world for themselves and the people around them. Throughout Unveiling Youth Potential workshops, Bridges builds relationships with youth participants, partnering as mentors, friends, resources, and allies with the promise of continual support to projects and ideas that invest in social good and promote both individual and community betterment.
“Much is gained from learning processes that allow young people to reflect positively on who they are, where they live, and how they might bring changes to the world around them” (Cammarota 2011, p. 829)
Agents of Change
Bridges aims to empower youth to be agents of change by supporting the development of capacities necessary to respond to the conditions of their environment and meet situational challenges. Through the Unveiling Youth Potential Program, Bridges supports empowerment by inviting youth participants to reflect on themselves and their communities – and the connectedness between the two – and then take action by responding to community needs or priorities. This process sustains the practice of praxis, develops critical consciousness and social competency to unveil, build, and sustain youth potential and capacity. Youth become agents of change as they start to take action, engaging within their communities whether by just simply being kind to others, being a better neighbour, daughter, son, mother, father, sibling, or by initiating a social change project. Developing the capacity to engage with life’s challenges and subsequently take action are crucial pieces of learning, and Bridges believes that every youth has this potential: to lead and/or support social change. Through this approach, the building of individual empowerment will result in the realization of healthy and vibrant communities.
“The capacity for youth to respond to pressing social and community issues transoms both youth and the environments in which they live” (Ginwright & Cammarota 2002, p. 88).
Cammarota, J. (2011). From hopelessness to hope: Social justice pedagogy in urban education and youth development. Urban Education, 46(4) 828-844.
Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Revised 20th Anniversary Edition. New York: Continuum.
Ginwright, S. & Cammarota, J. (2002). New terrain in youth development: The promise of a social justice approach. Social Justice 29(4) 82-95.