By the time you’re reading this issue, the White House (attn: President Donald Trump) should have received the stack of complimentary copies we sent him, along with a cover letter prompting him to look inside for the 27 personal letters addressed to him from middle and high school students. The 16-page feature and accompanying online content is the result of our fourth annual Student Voices Project, which invites students at Friends schools and Quaker students in other educational venues to submit their writing to the pages of Friends Journal.
When we announced the project’s theme last October, the U.S. presidential election had been a leading story in the news and within many Quaker circles for well over a year. Both of the top candidates represented historic firsts, challenging traditional convention in politics: a former First Lady with over 30 years of political experience and a billionaire reality TV star businessman with hundreds of ventures in a variety of markets. Whatever the outcome on November 8, it was sure to get people talking, marching, blogging, and engaging in cross-party dialogue.
One week later, submissions for the project started pouring in, and the flow continued through the following three months, resulting in nearly 300 “Dear Mr. President” letters from young individuals representing dozens of schools, meetings, and communities around the world (the project saw its first international participation this year with submissions from Monteverde Friends School in Costa Rica and Ramallah Friends School in Palestine). None of these student letter writers is old enough to vote, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention. SVP honoree Gillian Murray says it best: “We are young, but we have opened our eyes and see what’s going on in the world. We want to have our ideas heard.”
Being heard requires someone who is listening. I think Quaker youth programs build this kind of relationship very well. A recent QuakerSpeak video (see p. 55) highlights how members of New England Yearly Meeting work to support children’s spirituality. Among those interviewed, one answer stood out to me the most: they offer “a space where the adults trust that youth have a piece of the answer.” When we’re looking for answers, do our actions reflect this trust? How are we giving space and listening to our youth?
Also in this issue, we celebrate being Quaker in the summertime and all the exciting opportunities that come with it. From summer camps to summer gatherings, we have stories and experiences for Friends of all ages. Pete Dybdahl remembers the awkward yet love-filled moments between teenage counselors. Dyresha Harris shares outreach and inclusion tips from Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s camping program. Lastly, John Andrew Gallery is back with part two of his spiritual learnings from attending Quaker Spring in Ohio last summer. (And don’t miss this month’s online feature by tenth-grader Kyle Weinman whose lively piece about his favorite “Sweet Ol’ Camp Tune” will make you want to sing out loud.)
I grew up attending a summer camp program run by my quarterly meeting in Pennsylvania. It was at Quaker camp where I learned all the words to the George Fox song, where I first stood up during meeting for worship, and where I felt the most loved, seen, and accepted by those around me. It was where I could let my little light shine bright. Youth are always a piece of the answer. Let’s not forget that.