Young people are change agents
I believe that our young people can be and are great change agents. Even though today’s youth are most times portrayed as apathetic, disengaged and removed from civic action, there are stories that prove that positive, progressive and transformational social change in Bermuda and the world at large started with courageous, young people supported by knowledgeable, experienced, open-minded, faith-filled and caring adults.
I am a witness to the power of youth as social change agents This request for change — silently backed by a few teachers and trusted adults — became for me a life lesson in servant leadership, the positive impact of collaboration, organisation and the power of young people as social change agents.
In the late 1960s, I along with a group of fellow students at The Berkeley Institute joined with students from the Technical Institute and the Prospect High School for Boys, and started an after-school reading and discussion group focused on Black History & Literature. Collectively, we saw the need to read books written on the subject such as the Souls of Black Folk, Black Skin White Mask, The Wretched of the Earth, Black Voices, The Invisible Man and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. We realised that these books detailed how Black people could remove the negative personal, social and psychological trauma that the lack of freedom, injustice and inequality inflicted on Black people through the heinous act of enslavement.
Even though, initially, we were able to comply with the school administration’s requirements to meet on the school premises, after the interest and student numbers increased the number of teachers/adults required an increase, and non-Berkeley Institute students were not allowed to attend.
It became obvious the programme was not supported and the raison d’être was seen as “dangerous” by the governing body. Undeterred, we requested that Black History & Literature be offered during the school hours. After this was refused, we decided to stage a student-led boycott on the school sports day. The entire student body was informed during a lunchtime gathering and the students were asked not to participate in the sports events. To a large extent, the boycott was a success, with several events cancelled because of the lack of participation. Instead, a large number of students chose to listen to the student movement leaders’ speeches regarding the benefits of learning about Black History & Literature.
In the days that followed, we and our parents were called and we were now facing suspension. However, with the backing of supportive public and teacher advocates, we remained in school. Soon after discussions with the administration, a decision was made that the school would examine how to include Black History & Literature into classes. Within the next 18 months, a Black American teacher was hired to teach literature and offered Black Voices as a required text.
As I reflect, the life lessons from this movement have been significant. Believing that when making social change, courage, trust, respect, dialogue, collaboration and unity of purpose are required. We learnt that we needed to understand and educate ourselves on the positive benefits of making the change, establish and confirm a wider consensus, seek intergenerational support and counsel, be reminded to be respectful, and remain unified on purpose, not personality.
I know that there are young people in today’s Bermuda who want to change the existing social ills they face and who can be agents of social change. Please join me to encourage them to become associated with passionate and like-minded youth to collaborate, strategise and create a better, fairer and peaceful Bermuda.
We got you!
• Michelle Kaldun is the former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education and Executive Director of the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation
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