When we were in elementary school, my older sister and I started a magazine—well, she remembers it more as a newsletter of sorts. But I remember putting together feature-length stories with original artwork alongside handwritten word searches, ideas for games to play on a rainy day, and updates on who won the weekend’s soccer game. I don’t think it went beyond three issues, in part because we lacked a key component of any sustainable publication: a growing and engaged audience. (Grandma’s endorsement just wasn’t enough.)
Since joining the Journal nearly two years ago, I’ve become quite fond of our audience—yes, that would be you! You have been a wonderful audience to work for and with, supplying me with insightful comments and honest feedback, an arrangement that broadens both of our perspectives and scope. So this month, in keeping with our enriching relationship, I’m excited to share with you some fresh, new voices, as featured in our second annual Student Voices Project, and present them along with a query: What can we learn from younger voices, from middle school and high school students in our Quaker world?
The project seeks to encourage these students (both Quaker and non-Quaker at Friends schools and other educational venues) to share their thoughts, perspectives, and ideas with the Friends Journal audience. Why? Because we want to hear them, because we know they are important. First, we put out the call (thanks to Friends Council on Education for spreading the word); then we listen and give space: open our ears, and our eyes, and our minds to what they have to offer—for there is that of God in these voices, speaking through their words and art and images. This year’s theme of Peace, Conflict, and Justice revealed many dimensions of the student voices among us: they question and struggle; they exclaim and proclaim; they imagine and play; they speak truth and hold power.
Reading through the submissions, I noticed a number of common themes popping up again and again. The most referenced topic was, not surprisingly, that which is closest to home: getting along with your siblings and family. After that was keeping the peace between friends and classmates. Friendship was followed by looking outward, beyond your immediate community, to current events in America (racism was prominent, as evidenced by multiple mentions of Michael Brown and Eric Garner) and of the world (conflict in the Middle East, Russia, and Ukraine), and then even further back into history (both world wars, Hitler, slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and Martin Luther King Jr. were all cited).
This issue also highlights the importance of mentorship and teaching our values to those in our care. More than a few students wrote about having an “inner Quaker,” like SVP honoree Annie Rupertus who says, “All the Quaker testimonies that we celebrate and practice are stored there.” We can see that these voices have been encouraged by teachers, by parents, by friends and Friends alike. As Friends school teacher Joshua Valle so eloquently shares in his piece on the spiritual nurture of children (p. 24), “It is clear that the spiritual is not a gift we bestow but a natural endowment we attempt to nourish.”
I hope you find nourishment in the original works shared by the budding authors and artists of this issue, and that you in turn nourish the spiritual and creative instinct in the young people in your life. They and I thank you for your continued readership.
Gail Whiffen Coyle