About the Authors: Clement Coulston and Danielle Liebl are members of the Special Olympics Project UNIFY® National Youth Activation Committee. They recently attended the National Service Learning Conference to network, share and learn with other youth, teachers, and organizations throughout the world.
In looking at the problems facing society today, one can grow hopeless and overwhelmed to address those challenges. Too often, humanity looks at youth as energetic individuals, but neglects to utilize us as competent individuals to work to address societal issues. Our community is at a loss from not making use of this untapped potential and creativity.
However, at the 23rd National Service Learning Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, we witnessed the power of youth engagement, passion for change, and leadership. Many youth from various organizations gathered to raise awareness for various causes, like recycling programs and using sports as a catalyst for social change. Experiencing and embracing youth leadership made us ponder how we often define the word, “leadership.”
What does leadership mean to you?
Ability to take a stance? The person who is academically talented, athletic, and popular? These are some of the common descriptions people associate with being a leader. We are going to propose to you a new perspective.
Through our work with Special Olympics Project UNIFY, we challenge the meaning of leadership to identify, utilize, and embrace the talent of each person to contribute to the community. In the past, the input of youth with disabilities has been undermined and even unincorporated in many of the core activities at schools. This has propelled us to evaluate how youth are integrated into the school to ensure each person not only has a voice, but are provided meaningful opportunities to be engaged!
We are shifting the paradigm of leadership from leadership of the few, to co-leadership, where each person is a leader by sharing their talents with the community. We are improving the educational system by including youth input. We are providing a new perspective and unique proposals in addressing some of the problems faced today.
We challenge you to see your colleagues and peers as valued and talented individuals who have talents to share! However, we must open our eyes to their ability, rather than look down upon their challenges.
We see talent and ability first, do you?