Engaging Youth of Color

Aug 21st, 1970

Continued from Frontline Fall 2011 This song with the catchy title and common refrain Teach Me How to Dougie was a huge single for Cali Swag, a young group of 4 young African-American men out of California. If you are one of the few unfamiliar with the tune, just go to YouTube and watch the endless numbers of folks actually trying to learn this dance and it’ll be sure to hook you. When it’s done right, i.e.; per the instruction of Cali Swag members it works well and looks smooth as silk. When done wrong, hilarity abounds. So, what does doing the ‘Dougie’ have to do sexual violence? This year I had the pleasure of teaming up with a local alumni chapter of a traditionally black fraternity that hosted a Youth Leadership Conference during which I was asked to present for the preteen and teen audiences and teach them How to Advocate for Healthy Relationships. How cool was that? I took what was a benign song and dance phenomenon and turned it on its head by giving it some social relevance beyond its beats and rhymes. Turned it into social action by engaging youth through a popular and a contemporary approach to actually do something that allowed them to negotiate risky situations, navigate the dating world as well as advocate for safety and prevention. We spend a lot of time teaching young audiences about how to recognize signs, how to assess risk but rarely do we equip them with specific strategies, skills and tools to actually address or prevent. It was exciting to speak to a room full of young African-American youth who were so much more than which we often reduce them to. These kids were interested, engaged, communicative and happy to talk about issues that affect them, their peers and their communities. They had opinions, suggestions and a desire to learn how to be part of the solution and not contribute to the problem through inaction or silence. Young adults and teens of color are often marginalized when it comes to incorporating their voices in social movements. They like other youth are often underestimated and stereotyped as apathetic, but what I’ve found on more than this occasion is that they thirst not just for information but for dialog. Not being talked to or about, but having their opinions solicited, responded to and gaining assistance with charting a course for better outcomes. I wonder what would happen if we in the anti-sexual violence field adopted the ‘teach me how to advocate’ concept. Might we finally get the ground swell of youth and public interest that actually strengthens movements and leads to social change?  Might we have less instances of sexual violence? Look at the 99% movement that was started by college students and young adults. These youth have started a movement that seeks redress to socioeconomic problems. Imagine if they were collectively speaking to sexual violence. We often take our youth for granted and we want to protect them from the realities of what is oftentimes the harshness of life but these kids know way more than what we think and often have sensibilities about fairness, justice and safety beyond what we give them credit for. How great it would be to approach youth with contemporary messaging from the popular culture that they are already consuming and to provide them with the space and opportunity to take up important causes. How many times have we heard or even said that children are the future? Then why not engage them to have bright futures that are free from dating violence, stalking, sexual assault; futures where they are encouraged to not only join, but more importantly lead. I think that when that begins to happen with more frequency we will finally create the needed shift in the social norms that contribute and sustain rape culture and power-based personal violence. Written by Kathy Ferguson Program Manager  

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