Following their Lead: Youth in Action

Signs for school strike for climate change

In the world of interfaith, I’m considered “young”. At the age of 28, I often skew the average age of reñigious and interfaith gatherings by a few notches. It’s becoming a frequent reality that leaves me intrigued, but not bewildered, about the present and future iterations of faith and spiritual belonging in the world.

I’ve been tasked too many times to figure out how to “attract the youth” to spaces and events that push for high school and college students, as well as young adults and professionals, to be involved in the moment for harmony, peace, and unity. There are a few problems with this great task:

  • The tasks given to young people often don’t exceed the realms of hard labor or social media; they work more as logistical pieces of the organization rather than as fundamental members of a community
  • We ask them to be volunteers and participants in events but hesitate in making them leaders and agents for change in the community
  • They are limited by their “experience” and new presence in a community, therefore disqualifying them from making decisions and offering their ideas and expertise to the overall strategy and function of an organization
  • Their views, opinions, and actions matter until they “rock the boat”; when certain norms and protocols disturb a false sense of harmony with a group, decorum takes precedence over conflict transformation

When even one of these four things happen, you guarantee an atmosphere of distrust that deters young people from even thinking about getting involved. Securing their involvement requires more than small behavioral changes; it requires a paradigm shift that deepens the bond between generations and shares a mutual wisdom that brings truth to power and peace through justice.

Don’t believe me? Read these four names with me.
Malala Yousafzai, Emma González, Greta Thunberg, Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez.

These four trailblazers are impacting the fields of education, gun violence, and climate change while changing our understanding of community organizing, social justice, and movement building.

What made this possible? Their convictions. Their stories. And, unfortunately, a reality that gave them no choice. Attacks on their livelihoods and their communities compelled them to take action and they chose a path of courage and righteousness. They are an inspiration for millions who strive to bring positive change to the status quo of injustice in our world.

Communities of faith and moral conscience need to recognize and understand the narratives, the skills, and the groundswell of young people and what they are doing to make a difference. We don’t have to go far to find examples of this work. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the piece of technology you’re reading this blog on.

Brave New Films, a social justice documentary organization in Los Angeles, has created a series of videos that help inspire youth and educate elders about 14 youth-led organizations around the United States that tackle systemic and national issues like immigration, mass incarceration, racial justice, and more. You can access them here. Even better, you can host a screening in your religious community, school, for your family, friends, etc.. for free. These videos shine a spotlight on the incredible leadership skills young people have. They prove that years of formal experience — while always valuable — are not always everything. If we want today’s youth to join our communities and organizations, we need to provide them with real opportunities to showcase their abilities.

Make it your own commitment in 2020 to honor the sacred fire within young people, their righteous rage, and uplift their voices and abilities. They are not the leaders of tomorrow, they lead us today. Let’s follow their lead.

For the Adult: What can you do in your communities to empower young leadership? Brainstorm five ideas and commit to taking action on at least one of them.

For the Youth: What do you need from adult leadership to feel empowered and valued in organizational work? What is needed for intergenerational work to be carried out in a way that values both the wisdom of the past and the wisdom your generation brings? Invite members in a community you’re part of to have a discussion around these questions.

Tahil SharmaTahil Sharma is an interfaith activist based in Los Angeles who was born to a Hindu father and a Sikh mother. Following the Oak Creek, WI shooting of a Sikh temple in 2012, Tahil became involved in efforts for interfaith literacy and social justice and has been doing this work professionally for the past six years. Tahil also serves as one of three Interfaith Ministers in Residence for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and as the Los Angeles Coordinator for Sadhana: A Coalition of Progressive Hindus. Tahil also serves various organizations in different capacities to educate, engage, and serve various communities that promote interfaith cooperation and ethical pluralism and social and productive norms in society.


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