In an age where youth advocacy and action is becoming more and more of a defining characteristic of society, it is important to highlight these efforts that youth are making and to recognize the importance of their participation in making the world a better place. In order to play my part in doing this, I recently talked with Ruthie Metcalfe, a senior this year at Kennebunk High School. Ruthie automatically stands out as a youth who is passionate about changing the world for the better, and her actions back this up. This past summer, Ruthie attended a program through the School of the New York Times called “Youth Writing Racial Identity and Social Behavior.” This experience, she explained to me in our interview, was an “incredible opportunity” and overall “inspiring.” Through this program, Ruthie has gained knowledge and invaluable experience, something that she hopes to pass on and further build upon as she continues her journey with youth activism.
When does this program happen/occur?
This program was about 2 weeks long, (online this year because of COVID) and was from roughly 9am to 3pm each day. It happens annually, every summer, and it should be noted that it is extremely writing intensive. However, it does provide an amazing opportunity to actually talk and meet with some NYT Journalists (virtually of course)! Having those connections was a very valuable part of the experience.
How did you hear about it/get involved?
I actually heard about it online, via Instagram, and then I decided to apply. I got accepted and then attended the program in August. I wasn’t really looking for an experience like this, I really just happened across it, but it worked out well and was ultimately really exciting to get in.
Can you give a basic rundown of what the program is about?
This program really focused on the different ways that youth engage: their culture, the problems they face in society, etc. For example, we looked at issues ranging from gun control to social media to different aspects of pop culture. The program guided us through how to write about these experiences as a youth.
Would you recommend it to others and who would you recommend it to?
I would definitely recommend it to others although it does depend on their learning style because it was so much sitting in front of a screen, writing all day. However, being online was actually a blessing because it didn’t require the travel expenses that could’ve definitely stopped me from attending the program if it was in person. This program is for high school students across the nation and actually globally/internationally!
Will you do it again?
I’m not planning on doing it again but it was a very valuable experience!
What did you take away from it?
One of the coolest things that happened as a result of this program was I entered the School of the New York Times’s Photo Journalism Challenge where I was actually a top 10 finalist!
However, Ruthie’s work with activism does not stop there! Continue below to read about Ruthie’s next steps in establishing the Youth Activism Journal:
After my course through the School of the New York Times, I was inspired to find more ways to use my writing to talk about youth activism I’m passionate about.
In efforts to be an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement, I spent my summer months before this course walking with protesters & speaking out online and through art, writing, and self-education.
As I continued to make my voice heard, others began reaching out to me, seeking ways to get their stories into the decision making rooms that could enlist real change. Outside of my creative pursuits, I was an advocate on various community boards. On the RSU 21 School Board, I coordinated with graduates Caleb Eickman and Kailia Thomas to bring a student-led presentation over necessary changes to diversify the curriculum to the board. As they confronted the issues of racism in our school, the board began to see the perspective of minority students and what they’d been experiencing for years: fear, disappointment, but also hope for a future where all students and teachers felt safe in our hallways. Spending the summer surrounded by other young people speaking up for civil rights and basic equality, I was inspired as a young person.
I valued the stories of the young change-makers today who have the courage to demand change on every level, with both effortless communication and fashionable demonstration. I compiled all the photos I had been taking at Black Lives Matter Protests and Climate Rallies and put them all onto a website, which I called the Youth Activism Journal. I started uploading paintings, writings, and resources. Now, I hope to write about young activists and passionate artists and change-makers throughout Maine and across the nation.
Here, the voices of youth activists, artists, writers, and thinkers are shared and celebrated!