“I’m glad I’m not that age anymore” is a phrase I have often used while reminiscing about my teenage years. For me, being a teenager was not that bad; I had a great support system that consisted of a close group of friends and family members who loved me, and without the demands of college and work, I had more free time to be involved in hobbies such as art and sports. Nevertheless, there is a reason that phrase always comes to mind when I think about those years, a reason that I believe many other teenagers can relate to. That reason is freedom of expression and how often I was denied it.
As a teenager, it was common for me to feel that my opinion did not matter. This was especially true in school, a place where, even though I spent most of my teenage years inside it, I was never allowed to offer my opinion regarding the curriculum or even the appearance of the classroom. If I ever raised concerns about such issues, I was always seen as disruptive. It was a strange predicament; as a teenager I was expected to be mature and start preparing for adulthood but at the same time I was not allowed to express my ideas or voice my beliefs just as a confident adult would.
My experiences as a teenager are exactly the type of situations that Youth in Action is trying to prevent. With its philosophy of leading with youth, the program fosters a welcoming environment where teens can express their opinion without fear of judgement or reprehension. With its location on the south side of Providence, YIA opens its doors to one of the youth populations most vulnerable to this type of censorship--teenagers belonging to working-class families--and offers them the opportunity not only to become part of the organization but also to become leaders and decision-makers within it. YIA youth members are allowed to assume leadership positions, such becoming members of the board of directors, and they have a say in any decision made in the organization, from what color paint should be used on the walls to decisions regarding the organizations budget. In YIA youth is not a seen as just teens but also as important members of their community with significant opinions and ideas of how to make Providence better. Youth are given a voice by not only teaching them how to express their opinion about issues they believe need change but they are also given the opportunity to take real action in this change by allowing them to create, lead and participate in programs aim to make an impact in the community.
Looking back, I can see how a place like Youth in Action would have been beneficial for me and my peers--a free and open environment where we would have been allowed to express our opinions without the fear of being label as disobedient or rule-breakers. Youth in Action's philosophy of leading with youth would have helped me become a more confident and expressive teenager even in places where I was not allowed to be.