Even with the countless conversations about social justice happening all over the world, very few people are actually dedicated to making a real difference. Even fewer are young adults, who are dedicated to empowering underrepresented and marginalized communities. The presence of young adults taking leadership roles in social justice activism is so important because it proves to the youth around them that they can profoundly and positively influence the futures of their political, social, and ecological environments. Legacy International is not new to this idea; and as today is National Social Justice Day, why wouldn’t we recognize the alumni of your youth-based programs that are promoting social change on a global scale?
Legacy alumnus and US Department of State Emerging Young Leaders Awardee Thinzar Shunlei Yi is the coordinator of Burma’s National Youth Congress and the Yangon Youth Network, helped organize the ASEAN Youth Forum (AYF) in 2014, and also held a highly successful UN International Youth Day celebration reaching thousands of young people and raising awareness on mental health issues. Thinzar is also a founder of the diversity campaign, #myfriend, and constantly seeks to combat intolerance and extremism in Burma through the voices of youth.
To Thinzar, bringing young people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds together online and as friends in support of peace and diversity is so essential – especially in advance of national elections – because aside from the beauty of forming unity among people of different backgrounds, youth are able to identify the both common and unique issues facing them.
At only 26 years old, Thinzar has already accomplished so much in the space of social justice; and there is no doubt that her work reflects the notion that youth are not only interested in, but are also active members of creating positive change and a sense of togetherness in their communities.
When the topic of social justice leaders comes to mind, it is difficult not to think of someone like Global Youth Village 2017 and 2018 alumnus Diyaa Kaufman. On March 24, 2018, Kaufman attended the March for Our Lives – otherwise known as the #NeverAgain march. On this day, over 800,000 people met in Washington to unite over the horrible gun violence that has plagued both schools and underrepresented communities all over the United States, in hopes of gun reform and, more importantly, in hopes of creating a morally just society.
In the midst of the march, Kaufman said that, “I stood with my face raised and listen to students’ brave remarks. Their passion, hopes, and pain washed over the listening crowd, standing enraptured, and hanging on every word. I screamed until my voice was hoarse, clapped until my hands were numb. I cried, unabashed, for the many lives destroyed, and from the inspiration I felt.”
Promoting social justice via youth engagement has always been one of Legacy’s core values, and this is even visible in the UK Building Social Cohesion Program of 2018. From July 29 through August 12, Legacy International welcomed twelve young people, between 16 and 18 years old, from the UK for a two-week cultural exchange program in the US focused on building social diversity.
Starting in Raleigh, NC and ending in Philadelphia, PA, the participants engaged in trainings, meetings, site visits, volunteer projects, and networking opportunities with individuals, organizations, and programs focused on building social cohesion. These twelve young adults brainstormed possible actions to take on a variety of issues like disability inclusion, minority inclusion, diversity in political representation, combating gender bias, preventing hate crimes and social division, aiding people experiencing homelessness, LGBTQ inclusion, and countless others. There is a long list of problems to address in order to reach social equality, but these students did not shy away from addressing the active and countless predicaments present in today’s society.
Though the road to ending the issues facing a number of underrepresented social groups is a continuous and never-ending one, leaders like Thinzar and Kaufman have proven to us that it is very possible to make a difference in our communities, and even at a young age. On this National Day of Social Justice in 2019, our thoughts should not be of what we can do, but rather what we will do to create real change and empower people worldwide.