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However, advocacy for me stems from a personal politics that is rooted in the quest for fairness on behalf of the young people who have been marginalized on the basis of their socio-economic background (social class), ethnicity, race, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation and ability versus disabilities. This persistent quest for fairness came about by experiencing and witnessing first hand how structural poverty in communities and families place the destiny of youth at a serious disadvantage. Despite the fact that there is a revised National Youth Policy and numerous programmes and initiatives provided to empower youth in areas such as employment, training, entrepreneurship, education, cultural and creative industries, science and technology as well as community development, most young people still express feeling excluded from national decision making processes as well as lacking the necessary tools to enhance their personal development. The 2011 Qualitative Survey or Youth Situational Analysis of Jamaica that was conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB and the Government of Jamaica) reinforced these feelings where young people from all fourteen (14) parishes in Jamaica indicated, "we are in a box... there are no forums to express ourselves... a jus suh di ting set!" while the 2016 Respect Jamaica and UNICEF report showed where more than 80 per cent of youth respondents believed that the government can do more to advance the youth agenda. The major questions are: what exactly is the youth agenda? and who are the major stakeholders in advancing the cause?
Young people have to be the major stakeholders in advancing their cause because only they are aware of the multiple realities, possibilities and challenges they face on an individual and collective level. I have learnt that advocating for youth has to take place beyond closed conference rooms, public forums and summits in order for tangible results to be garnered because many times, the voices that need to be heard are or were not present in the room. Working with Respect Jamaica under the guidance of partners such as the US Embassy in Jamaica, UNICEF and Digicel has offerred a best practice experience within its 1 year (2015-2016) duration. Our organization focussed on promoting respect and inclusion for all citizens regardless of age, class, colour, gender, political affiliation, sexual orientation, abilities versus disabilities as well as respect for the environment. We had monthly informal consultations with young people in their respective communities and organizations while organizing and executing capacity building workshops in areas such as self esteem, community journalism, public speaking, policy and position paper writing, social media advocacy, programme monitoring and evaluation, team building and conflict resolution. While interacting with these amazing young people, I have observed that all have the deepest aspirations to become the best version of themselves and to contribute to nation building and I also realized that the youth agenda must be built on the values of social justice, equality and inclusion. I also realized that the young people were more comfortable in spaces that were non-judgemental of their specific experiences and offerred practical recommendations and robust platforms for growth. However, the question that still lingers in my mind, how can we build a youth agenda around equality and inclusion if the resources of the state are scarce? This will be discussed in PART 2 of the reflection series.