It is the honor of my life to cross paths with so many inspiring young people from all over the world. Over the many years in which I've designed and put in place different kinds of fellowship programs, study exchanges, and peer collaborations, there has been something deep down that drives me to "pay it forward," as anyone who has ever heard me give a talk knows well. In my own youth, I was privileged to have others before me open up doors, build frameworks, propel my energy, and amplify my voice. I quickly found that the way to multiply this effect was to do the same for generations coming after me, and I have never regretted one moment of that focus. Honestly, I never intended to be able to see what comes of these seeds being planted, but as I get older, I am grateful to witness blooms and fruits when students from past initiatives reach out to me to tell me how they are making a difference in the world or how they are still in touch with each other years later.
So here's a shout-out to all of the mentors of and advisors to YouthMappers: thank you for what you do alongside us to make this network happen. This includes the faculty points of contact for each chapter, campus staff, and administrators, as well as those in the broader community who share their time and energy to support youth, such as the many volunteers of HOT, local community actors, and parents. While I am grateful for the time and energy you all spend with the aim of supporting YouthMappers everywhere, I want to emphasize the importance of doing this work with the right mindset when it comes to how we choose to engage with youth. This past week, I was reminded in simple terms of what this mindset should look like by a secondary school student who courageously and eloquently spoke to a crowd of researchers and practitioners about youth resilience. In short:
"Be a good ancestor."
What does that mean exactly? How do we do this?
Firstly, be sure youth understand the trajectory of the past in getting to this moment, but then let go as they choose their own paths forward. As one of my favorite poets, Kahlil Gibran wrote, "their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams." Make sure that strong youth leadership is in place in your chapters, give them access to the tools they need, and let them lead the way. You can also read into this, "then get out of their way!"
Second, connect young people to each other. This principle is one of the design aspirations of YouthMappers being a network that works collaboratively around global campaigns for mapping tasks, and meanwhile encourages youth to develop local project mapping that can be shared with others. It never ceases to inspire me to see for example, when Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, our chapters in Kenya, Uganda, Bangladesh, and Texas jumped on the task in solidarity; and many more examples that we read about often in this blog space. It's not about you or me. It is about those lasting connections that can be forged by meeting around the map.
Finally, raise visibility to their ideas and amplify their accomplishments. Young people typically have not yet built up the means, mechanisms, or reach that we have cultivated over time as older advisors, and indeed often inherited from our own ancestral professional communities. Open up safe spaces for them to participate, even rebuild those mechanisms. The world is changing at an accelerated pace, so we need to accelerate the transitions for youth to step up. Then give them recognition, and make sure credit is distributed fairly. This allows all of us to not only be inspired by their thoughts, innovations, and energy, but it also keeps us accountable to a sustainable future. Again from Gibran: "You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you."
In other words, YouthMappers mentors and advisors, be good ancestors.
Dr. Patricia Solís is Director and CoFounder of YouthMappers. She is the Executive Director of the Knowledge Exchange for Resilience and holds a faculty position as Research Associate Professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University. She is adjunct faculty at Texas Tech University, and President of the Geography Commission of the PanAmerican Institute for Geography and History, a specialized scientific diplomatic organization of the Organization of American States.