Critical Race Theory and Youth Development, Belonging, and Activism

— Written By Elexys Thomas
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It is no secret that critical race theory (CRT) has been a topic of serious controversy in recent years. As a result, many politicians and community members struggle to see the benefits that CRT can have for young individuals, particularly because it remains widely misunderstood. Yet, youth-serving professionals alongside higher-education students studying youth populations continue their work to prove the theory’s benefits for positive youth development.

As a young person, I recognize that CRT does indeed have factors that should be considered to help young people find that their life, culture, experiences, and history are meaningful and valued. Today I hope that this short review of how CRT can inspire higher rates of youth empowerment and activism will provide further insight and help clarify persistent misconceptions.

The first important thing to note is the fact that young people, even those in their early 20’s, spend lots of time in educational settings. A 2021 Vox article on CRT use in schools presented some information on how CRT not only helps young people have better adult lives, but also encourages diverse perspectives.

Avoiding and discouraging discussions about accurate representations of history in settings where cultural socialization is so important (schools, community organizations, and workplaces) poses far more damage to our young people than the theory itself. This is especially true for young people of color.

difficult life experiences, togetherness, life quotes

Teaching and discussing difficult history can spark beautiful motivations.

Cultural socialization– the learning of ones’ history, culture, and heritage– is a critical step in helping youth gain a sense of belonging and community. Institutions that lack the ability to create spaces that value this concept make it difficult for all Americans to work together in solving several deep-rooted issues. New York Daily News released an article on why youth need CRT late last year supporting this very idea.

There was also a fairly recent blog posted by The Conversation reviewing some great research-based findings that protect youth workers stance on continuing conversations based in CRT. That is the belief that by connecting young audiences with opportunities to learn and embrace the good, bad and ugly pasts of their ancestors we also spark inspiration and passion.

We must recognize why and how CRT is the starting point for providing younger generations with the tools necessary to make great contributions in society.

blurred vision, lens, perspective, glasses

Ultimately, I challenge you to:

  • #PassTheMic to students, volunteers, and young workers to hear about their shared experiences and perspectives.
  • Ask what knowledge or resources you can provide to initiate relevant social change.
  • Spark the passion youth have been searching for.

Passion leads to empowerment. Empowerment leads to inspiration. Inspired young people is how we create meaningful change in the world.

Take a few minutes to consider the Questions for Extended Dialogue below. Are you interested in continuing conversations related to youth empowerment in your community?

Questions for Extended Dialogue

1. How can you create a more trauma-informed and culturally sensitive environment in your educational or workplace setting? What steps can you take?

2. What are some of the shared experiences or perspectives of the young people you are surrounded by? What social change are they striving to make?

3. In what ways can CRT be beneficial to young people who are not a person of color? Are there similar benefits between the two populations of young people?