In my last article, I discussed my journey with mental health and activism. Here’s the follow up with tips and suggestions on how to be a youth advocate yourself! Though my previous post focuses on mental health initiatives, you can apply these methods to any area of interest within the advocacy field.
Identifying a Passion
Your first step has to be to find what you’re passionate about and interested in contributing to. Beyond mental health advocacy, there’s a world of other issues to explore. Are you a vegetarian/vegan and have a passion for animal rights? Are you inspired by climate change activists and want to contribute to efforts to save our planet? When you find a cause that makes you truly want to speak out, whether it be gun violence, women’s rights, homelessness, or any other issue, the remaining steps become much easier.
Once you’ve identified a cause you want to contribute to, the next step is to educate yourself on the topic to the greatest extent you can. In the conversations surrounding mental health, there’s a heavy stigma that often silences people’s struggles due to a fear of being judged. It’s important when being an advocate for mental health awareness that you not only avoid using language that further perpetuates sigma, but also that you have a thorough understanding of it so that you can educate others on its impact. A strong understanding of your issue allows you to see how it uniquely impacts different people, and helps you engage in stimulating conversations in which you can truly advocate for acceptance and/or change.
Starting a Club
Having a group of people who share your drive to make a difference is an incredible way to collectively increase your impact on your cause. Through sharing ideas and both offering and receiving support, you not only create a greater impact, but can also make meaningful friendships and help each other become stronger advocates.
First, create a firm mission statement for your new club and develop a plan to get other students engaged in your organization. This could include figuring out if your school has a club fair, contacting your school newspaper to get the word out, or even just using social media to reach your peers. Next, set up an appointment with your principal or student activities board to discuss your club’s establishment. Be sure to come up with a strong proposal that highlights the benefits your club can bring to your school. Once the club gets off the ground, you can begin recruiting members and planning activities!
Ideally, a club should have a wide array of activities to ensure that the majority of its targeted audience can receive the message. Simple, yet effective activities include: sign-holding, handing out informational flyers, distributing awareness pins, and holding open discussions. By making education either interactive (e.g. fishbowl discussions) or tied to a simple object, like a ribbon or bracelet, it can entice more people to engage with the material.
Volunteering With Nonprofits
In line with doing your research, you should have a general knowledge of prominent organizations in your cause’s field. Being aware of different groups’ efforts will allow you to more easily find volunteer opportunities. Additionally, you can hold fundraisers for nonprofits that support your cause.
Accounting for Diversity
An important factor to account for in activism is understanding how need is dispersed, and therefore advocating for all groups, especially those frequently underrepresented. For example, poverty is one of the greatest risk factors for developing a mental illness, yet neighborhoods of lower socioeconomic statuses typically have less access to mental health resources. Furthermore, it’s a common occurrence for urban violence and suicide by gun to be ignored in the gun violence prevention movement, despite the fact that these methods of gun violence account for the majority of deaths.
Bottom line: Be conscious of whether or not your advocacy is inclusive of all people who it can benefit!
No matter how large or small the impact, every action counts. I hope these tips are helpful for your journey into youth activism or in strengthening the advocacy you’re already involved in!