Our Time is Now:
Young People Changing the World
Kinkade, Sheila and Macy, Christina (2005).
New York: Pearson Foundation; 176 pages. $19.95. ISBN 0977231909.
This book is intended in general to speak to young people. It seeks to demonstrate that through the leadership of young people, change is possible. Clearly, the book seeks to inspire other youth to action in confronting problems of their own communities and societies. When one considers that many community-based organizations are initiated by youth who wish to make a difference to their own communities, this book provides an important resource. It describes the problem that launched a particular activity, the first steps in tackling the problem, and the challenges faced by the organization. Youth who may wish to initiate similar activities in their own areas could then use the book as an important resource.
Both the authors are published and have considerable experience of working and writing for nonprofit organizations. Full credit must go the authors for giving voice to the passion, commitment, leadership and vision of these youth. It’s an approach that is engaging and inspiring, especially to other youth.
The book is a collection of stories of young people who are inspired to action by the conditions that confront them, typically in their own neighborhoods or sometimes more broadly in their country, so as to make a difference. It reflects on the motivations and accomplishment of more than 30 young leaders from all over the world. A key theme running throughout the compilation of these stories is the focus on serving others as an impetus for action. While a Web reference or address of the organizations emerging from the inspired leadership of young people is not listed, these can be easily located on the Web or one can go to the site of the book publishers (http://www.pearsonfoundation.org/IYF/ourtimeisnow/profilees.htm) to get a short biography of the youth leaders who have inspired this book.
The book’s purpose is to foster connections among today’s youth leaders. In doing so, it also provides a window of opportunity for sharing information and advice on how to strengthen youth-led grassroots activities. This is a refreshing change, as it correctly identifies the important role of youth in shaping their own futures instead of this being something that should be left to the elders. It recognizes that youth can be part of the solution.
Using a case study approach, the book is divided into three sections: “passion for a cause,” “different roads to the same destination” and “commitment to grow.” The first section focuses on youth leaders who are driven by their own passion to make a difference, whether it is to ensure that young girls in Kenya are better informed about their own bodies or to extend education to as many Afghani girls as possible or to provide healing and hope to young Palestinians through music. The second section focuses on how youth actions create a space for the critical voice of youth to be heard in relation to major issues such as the environment, human rights and child abuse, the divide between the rich and poor and globalization. The third section is a look at how local issues are also global issues, from harnessing the media in Nigeria to combat HIV/AIDS, to mobilizing students worldwide to prevent blindness.
Each section begins with an introduction from a well-known community figure, and then presents a series of stories of young people from very different backgrounds around the world. They are remarkable in themselves, and even more so in terms of the work they undertake in their communities. One can’t but be impressed with the achievements of the youth represented in the book. Each story represents a case study of the person, but also the passion and approach used to reach their goals through community grassroots activities. Its appeal is international and yet very local, as youth leaders from countries as diverse as Albania, Kenya, Vietnam, Mexico, Argentina, India, United States, Palestine, Afghanistan, The Netherlands among others are represented. Both developed and developing countries are represented, thereby making an important point that while the problems may differ, the need for youth to actively participate in promoting change in their own contexts is as salient and important as ever. The range of issues covered by youth is impressive. They include issues such as preventing teen pregnancy in Kenya, promoting the rights of women and girls in India, engaging college students in China in the fight against HIV/AIDS or using the power of the media to combat HIV/AIDS; access to education (girls in Afghanistan), rallying young people to support the educational needs of children (Australia), helping to protect the environment (India, Canada), and helping low-income families launch small businesses.
Every youth leader is briefly profiled to give the reader some insight into their commitment, dedication and determination to achieve their objectives. This is followed by a description of how they got started and the key characteristics of the youth-led activities. The well-illustrated book, together with extended quotes from youth leaders, helps connect the reader to the person and the project. Each youth leader then also provides key lessons learned from the work they have been doing. An afterword by James Toole provides a useful way of understanding different types of leadership. It is obvious that the youth represented in this book are special people who, through their actions, have increased the space for other young people to be similarly engaged. At the same time, it provides an important message for older generations to recognize the power and vitality of youth to contribute to building better societies.
Arvin Bhana received his Ph.D. in clinical and community psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is currently a Research Director in the Child, Youth, Family and Social Development research program at the Human Sciences Research Council and School of Psychology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. His primary research is in developing research interventions for youth at risk, including those affected by HIV/AIDS and substance use. A major focus of his work is in developing community-collaborative evidence-based models of practice in promoting resilience among vulnerable adolescent populations.