This post was written by 2020 Education Fellow Andrew Brennen.
I was 15 when I first became interested in solving problems in my hometown of Lexington, Kentucky.
I noticed early on that if you were poor or looked like me, you received a lower-quality education. I also realized that while my classmates and I spent hours in the classroom — thinking critically about everything from history to algebra — rarely were we asked to reflect on the educational process itself. Over time, I came to a new realization: while some did not take me seriously because I was “just a kid,” I could still fight for education justice by doing my own research, standing up for what I believe in, collaborating with my colleagues, and refusing to back down. These realizations were a turning point for me and they sparked an idea. That spark led me to co-found the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team to fight for more equitable schools across the state alongside other young people.
To others like me, who are told that we’re too young to make a difference, I say: look to history. From the Little Rock Nine to the Velvet Revolution to the anti-war campaigns of the 60s — throughout the world and throughout history, society has turned to young people to lead us through challenging and uncertain times. Today is no different. At this very moment, young organizers, researchers, and storytellers across the world are leading innovative efforts to address pressing problems facing their communities: a climate emergency, a global pandemic and systemic racism, to name a few.
I stand with those young people, and I stand with you.
It’s one of the reasons I think the work that the National Geographic Society is doing is so important. As a 2020 Education Fellow, I’m working to connect with a growing, global network of young leaders who are dedicated to impacting the world for the better, and helping turn their interest into action. After all, that’s the Society’s purpose. Since its founding 132 years ago, the National Geographic Society has invested in intrepid Explorers who challenge our understanding, help solve some of our planet’s most complex problems, and dare to envision a brighter, more sustainable future. The Society funds Explorers like Jane Goodall, Jedidah Isler, Bob Ballard, Rue Mapp, and so many others who inspire thousands around the world today.
National Geographic believes that its mission — to use the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world — cannot be accomplished without the leadership, innovation and contributions of young people. In my role as a National Geographic Education Fellow, I’ve been working alongside Society staff to engage hundreds of youth around the world in conversations to understand how to best support #GenGeo: a global community of young people who are helping to shape the conversation, drive progress, and seek solutions to help protect our planet.
As a direct result of the conversations we had with young people, and the needs you identified, the National Geographic Society launched several initiatives to provide even more support for youth, including a Summer Learning Series. For many, COVID-19 upended summer plans, from key internships and jobs to countless other opportunities for young people, which were cancelled as a result of the pandemic. So, our team mobilized to create live events like #GenGeo Careers In Exploration. Every Tuesday at 2 p.m. EDT, tune in as National Geographic Young Explorer Sahar Mohammadzadeh hosts conversations with Nat Geo Explorers at the top of their respective fields in science, exploration, education and storytelling, and learn about the career advice they wish they knew in high school and college. Or join me every Friday at 2 p.m. EDT for a live conversation with some of the best storytellers in the business: National Geographic photographers during Explorer Classroom Special Edition: Photo Camp Live.
As we connect throughout the summer, we want to keep our conversations and momentum going! Share your ideas, reflections and feedback and let us know: how can we improve upon this series? What else can we explore? Get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org and @aebrennen on Instagram and Twitter.
In communities around the world, young people are showing us that we’re making progress and that we have many reasons to be hopeful. I could not be prouder or more excited to see these initiatives and the #GenGeo community take off. And I can’t wait to see the change that just us “kids” are able to create.
Andrew Brennen is a 2020 National Geographic Education Fellow, host of Explorer Classroom Special Edition: Photo Camp Live, and co-founder of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team. Follow him on Twitter: @aebrennen
Feature image by Rebecca Hale