The Right to be Heard and the Opportunity to Make a Difference

Jeff Rubin

“A nation is judged based on how it treats it’s least, it’s last, it’s littlest” is a quote attributed to many authors over the years, from Henry Ford to Harry Truman to Mahatma Gandhi, among others. It remains a good yardstick by which to measure so much of what is happening in our country today. That’s why I’m so impressed by what our young people are doing in response to the tragedies that have taken place in Florida, Kentucky, and too many other communities across the country.

Standing up for what we believe in is certainly nothing new. It’s the right of every citizen to be heard. Yet in this case, I find myself asking why, in a series of horrific events dating back to 1999 at Columbine, does it take a chorus of voices, too often ignored, to get our elected officials to initiate action? It’s unfortunate but true, that too many leaders in our society tend to marginalize and diminish what our young people and elders have to say; and we as a nation are lesser for it.

In Madison County, as in schools across the nation, educators are charged with shaping young minds to think intelligently and independently about subjects and issues that impact them now, as well as in the future. No one should be surprised, therefore, when students act to express their opinions. On the contrary, they should be encouraged to do so and deserve to be heard.

At Madison Southern, a top 20 High School, students are being taught to do just that with a model that teaches skills for present and future success; empowers students to be life-long learners; affirms their place as valuable individuals who can contribute to their community; and motivates students to set and reach high goals for themselves.

Three examples, among the many co-curricular programs available at the school, support these objectives. The Green Dot program equips students with the skills they need to help prevent bullying, dating violence, and sexual assault. The aim is to turn potentially red dot situations into green.

Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) is part of a national organization for high school students who have an interest in business. The mission for FBLA is to bring business and education together in a positive working relationship through innovative leadership and career development programs. In addition to building a portfolio of accomplishments through a wide range of awards programs, FBLA members are also expected to take part in community service.

Superintendent Teen Task Force (STTF) is made up of a small group of juniors and seniors from Madison Southern and Madison Central High Schools that meet quarterly to participate in interactive leadership training and discuss issues relevant to students in Madison County Schools.

These are just three of many outstanding programs, each designed to build character, encourage leadership, and address issues of concern both to students and community alike.

With such a wealth of human resources at our disposal, why is it that our leadership is not doing more to encourage the thoughts and ideas that our young people and elders have to say?

I for one would love to hear what they have to say about issues like character, leadership, crime, safety, substance abuse, the local economy, and the future of their community.
On Wednesday, March 21st I’ll be doing just that in a “Community Conversation” being taped for viewing at 9 p.m. that evening on WBONTV.com. I hope you’ll tune in.

Jeff Rubin is the author of Wisdom of Age and a consultant on community and aging issues. He has spent over 20 years as a director and facilitator of community service programs at the local, state and national levels. An advocate for “Age-friendly” and “Livable” communities, Mr. Rubin is currently working to advance these initiatives statewide in Kentucky and invites your comments, involvement, and support. He can be reached at [email protected]

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