Youth environmental activism has moved us forward in many ways—but to maximize this impact we need coalitions that learn from the past in order to prepare for the future.
"Young people are recognizing that the issues that we're inheriting are ours now. Like, the inheritance process just got significantly shorter because of COVID."
Shoulders of giants<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY0OTA1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTY2MDg3N30.nF9s_trDLBKgrIC1uYpAGhO5cNgMLPhRKypCAI6_NI8/img.jpg?width=980" id="aa8de" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="96debd51ad3125ece5b86a8e0704008e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="mural of strong black child" data-width="600" data-height="1021" />
Reach High and You Will Go Far, Mural by Josh Sarantitis, 20th and Arch Streets, Philadelphia, Pa., 2000.<p> <em>Omodé gbón Àgbà gbón L'afi dá Ilé-ifè: the wisdom of the young and the wisdom of the old are the core of Ilé-ifè (Creation)-Yoruba Proverb</em> </p><p> Prin is one of many young people I have worked with over the years, building creative and civic engagement initiatives to promote community and environmental health. My current doctoral work focuses on how young people (de)construct, interpret and share oral and written texts as they work toward food and environmental justice in their communities. This work is influenced by extensive contributions from literacy scholars like <a href="https://www.gse.upenn.edu/academics/faculty-directory/gadsden/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Dr. Vivian L. Gadsden</a> and <a href="https://www.gse.upenn.edu/academics/faculty-directory/campano/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Dr. Gerald Campano</a>. They highlight, among other aspects, the importance of <a href="https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-3-319-02252-9_15" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">engaging families as co-constructors of research and educational processes</a>, and of <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/24574990?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">building intergenerational coalitions to address social injustices</a>. </p><iframe width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" allow="autoplay" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/977039194&color=%23ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true"></iframe><p>Studies have shown that young people are <a href="https://www.heri.ucla.edu/PDFs/Linking-Diversity-and-Civic-Minded-Practices-with-Student-Outcomes.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">more engaged in learning when communities and families are involved</a>. These approaches can also help <a href="https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/blog/community-schools-powerful-strategy-disrupt-inequitable-systems" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">address the inequities</a> baked into our education system, stemming from concerted disinvestment and discriminatory practices that simultaneously create dependence and strip resources from low-income communities and communities of color. Family and community engagement also helps to make visible the levers needed to improve students' <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3102/0034654318825437" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">social-emotional functioning</a> and <a href="https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED545474.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">literacy and math learning</a>.<br></p><p> As rates of homeschooling and distance learning increase due to the pandemic, understanding how young people work with their communities to build on ancestral knowledge can be an important step toward ensuring a more just and sustainable future. </p>
Building intergenerational coalitions<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY0OTA3OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjY4NjY5N30.Dz_qU1_9n0hra5rk-zfI1LsC9cx00dFBsqcoEKVCitQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="949e3" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="10c4494b954578e614cf0c3c29ab152a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="intergenerational learning food justice" data-width="4608" data-height="3072" />
Young people engaging in "foodways interviews" with a community elder at Sankofa Community Farm. (Credit: OreOluwa Badaki)<p>Simply being in intergenerational spaces does not automatically result in intergenerational learning, just like being in a classroom does not automatically result in learning. Efforts to promote intergenerational learning would explicitly aim to promote greater understanding and respect between generations, and would dedicate the time and resources needed to meet this aim. My work thus far has prompted me to center the following questions when thinking about building intergenerational coalitions:</p><ol><li><strong>What is already known and understood? </strong>I take heed from Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, who reminds us in<a href="https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/braiding-sweetgrass-robin-wall-kimmerer/1114828102" target="_blank"> </a><a href="https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/braiding-sweetgrass-robin-wall-kimmerer/1114828102" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Braiding Sweetgrass</a> that "doing science with awe and humility is a powerful act of reciprocity." For me, this means partnering with community-based organizations like the Southwest and West Agricultural Group to design research questions that are relevant to their work with young people. It means mapping out converging and diverging goals, interests, and methods in these collaborations, and it means remembering that just because knowledge isn't expressed in ways that might be recognizable to me, doesn't mean it is not there.</li><li><strong>How are different modes of expression used to activate ancestral knowledge?</strong> For me, it's through dance. West African dance, more specifically, has been an important aspect of my experience with intergenerational learning and food justice, as many of the dances stem from food cultivation and preparation practices. In <a href="https://books.google.com/books/about/History_Dances.html?id=GDZ7DwAAQBAJ" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>History Dances</em></a>, Dr. Ofosuwa Abiola highlights the ways in which natural body movements of everyday tasks, like farming, cooking, and harvesting, helped to inform <a href="https://www.history.com/news/who-are-the-mandinka" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mandinka</a> dance systems and even modern West African dance vocabulary. When I dance, there is space for my whole self (body, spirit, mind, emotion) in the merging of movements informed by my unique experiences with movements inspired by the traditional knowledge archived through the dances. The energy that propelled my ancestors to grow, nurture, cultivate, resist, persist, and share are in these movements. I give thanks, and try to pass that energy onwards in my teaching, in my research, <a href="https://urbanedjournal.gse.upenn.edu/archive/volume-18-issue-1-fall-2020/embodied-learning-and-community-resilience" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in my writing</a>, and in my movement.</li><li><strong>How can tension be productive? </strong>Asking people to step into their past can be discomforting, but it can also help to deepen the learning experience. When encouraging my students on the Navajo Reservation to pursue their goal of writing a bilingual, Navajo-English play, a parent asked that I instead focus on teaching English to better prepare students for colleges and careers that privilege English. This parent's concerns were valid and not uncommon amongst older generations of community members; especially those who had lived through the<a href="https://boardingschoolhealing.org/education/us-indian-boarding-school-history/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> </a><a href="https://boardingschoolhealing.org/education/us-indian-boarding-school-history/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Indian Boarding School</a> era and who had been told for decades that their language and culture had no value. This is not unlike the experiences of some of the youth I now work with at the farm. They have community members who do not see the return of youth of color to the land as desirable. Rather, they see it as a reminder of this country's exploitation of Black and Brown bodies in the pursuit of agricultural and economic gains, and as a regression to a lifestyle that many elders fought to be free of. These are the sorts of tensions that invite us to face ruptures in our past so that they don't persist in our future.</li></ol>
Ensuring accountability<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY0OTA5OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNDk3Njk4NX0.Cg8crHphnMbnrdkXexYqqEKpmBdQaRxDjyjWfCA-GK8/img.jpg?width=980" id="45838" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bf64e0c5504224cb89c4d967f72e8a8a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="West African dance" data-width="960" data-height="639" />
Author OreOluwa Badaki performing West African dance at a local street festival. (Credit: UCD Photos)
School girls at a march for better school climate. Cape Town, South Africa. (Credit: OreOluwa Badaki)
Author OreOluwa Badaki teaching a workshop in Kumasi, Ghana, focusing on community engagement and art-making. (Credit: Sam Pairav)