Why Social Justice Matters & What We Can Learn from Emma Gonzales, Naomi Wadler, & Edna Chavez

Originally published on Modern Mom

Last week, I spoke with the founders of Girls Leadership, whose mission it is to equip girls with the skills to exercise the power of their voice. In our discussion, we spoke about the importance of actively teaching social justice, particularly to girls. We are in a unique time period, one in which we are beginning to see a turn-of-the-tide on many levels. In order to leverage this change, however, we need to nurture the next generation, and draw on the lessons we learned last week from young women like Emma Gonzales, Naomi Wadler, and Edna Chavez.

When I started doing talks about resilience, I often referred to the next generation of “teacup children” whose parents had protected them for so long that when they leave the nest and face their first challenge on their own they shatter like teacups. Then I attended my first Nexus Youth Summit, filled with young people whose resilience and creativity gave me hope that they could truly change the world. Last weekend, the nation and the world saw evidence at The March for Our Lives of what I saw at Nexus.

Several years ago, in response to the Sandy Hook shooting, I wrote this poem:

Lives Defined

There are events that change us. They permanently change who we are and who we will be.
These are the events that compel us to search our souls.
These are the events that force us to face who we truly are.
These are the events that push us to our limits and test to see just how far we can go.
These are the events that expose our vulnerability and emphasize our interdependence.
In the hours and days following these events, we cannot comprehend the change that has taken place.
In the weeks and months that follow, we begin to recognize our new reality.
Through the years, we may even begin to heal and find a new sense of purpose, one that before would never have been possible.
But never, never will we be the same again.
And it is through these the lens of these events that we will forever tell the rest of our story.

In my work, I define resilience as our response to challenge, good, bad, big, or small. The reason this is important is that it is through small challenges that we learn to handle those greater challenges, the ones that may someday define who we become.

When we face any challenge, our brains need to make a decision: fight, flight, freeze…or action. Increasingly, we are seeing people respond in ways that represent our “fight-flight-freeze” response, which presents as depression, anxiety, addiction, and violence. This results from a lack of resilience: they have not learned how to respond to challenge in a productive way. The students at Parkland, on the other hand, faced one of those moments, and they were prepared.

The March for Our Lives was impressive in many ways, but what struck me most was their focus on social justice. The Parkland students did not make it about themselves, but rather recognized that their challenge was part of a much larger issue, one of which they had been largely sheltered, but others had lived everyday. I was particularly struck by the speech by Naoimi Wadler who eloquently led us into her world to experience the true nature of the problem.

Contrast this with the “teacup children.” Those who have been sheltered from a world beyond their own, who are raised with the purpose of becoming “happy.” Why do they shatter? Because our brains need more than that. Our brains evolved to reward those who serve a purpose, so that is the path to happiness. Long ago, Viktor Frankl advised that,

“Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

We need to proactively teach our children the tools that they need to handle challenges. We need to teach them about social justice issues and give them an opportunity to be heard. We need to instill confidence in them that they are active members of our society who need to develop the skills necessary to be independent thinkers.

We need to nurture programs like Girls Leadership’s Summer Overnight Program that brings girls together from around the country to learn about their identity, how that identity is shaped by our culture, and the skills to equip them to create change at every level: personal, social, and societal. Because, as we saw at the March for Our Lives, and I saw many years ago at Nexus, this generation has the potential to change the world, we just need to teach them to exercise the power of their voice and then get out of their way.

About the Author

Donna Volpitta, Ed.D., is the founder of the Center for Resilient Leadership. Her Resilient Mindset Model, which draws on the latest research in neurology, psychology and education, has been applied to areas of leadership from parenting to corporate management. Dr. Volpitta is co-author of the book The Resilience Formula: A Guide to proactive–Not Reactive-Parenting and co-creator of the Nametags Education Program. In all of her work, Dr. Volpitta provides practical strategies and numerous ways to apply the model.

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