Anna Carlson is an Americorp Promise Fellow working with the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success.   She lives in Jacobson.  

Americorps Fellow Anna Carlson is working with youth fro the Itasca area to assess the results from the Youth Voice Student Survey.

Americorps Fellow Anna Carlson is working with youth fro the Itasca area to assess the results from the Youth Voice Student Survey.

With school out on Martin Luther King Day, many families have time for a long weekend with their kids and teachers can catch up on all the grading and mountains of work to get done before the start of a new semester. However, with so much to do, it’s easy to forget the purpose for the holiday. The civil rights movement was, in many ways,  about accepting everyone into our communities.  One of our goals on the Pathway to Student Success reads: “Every student will feel accepted.”  What does acceptance mean to our youth?  Take a moment today to ask a young person:  “What does acceptance feel like to you?” and ask yourself, “What can I do to help others feel included?”

The data from the Youth Voice survey suggests that 61% of youth in Itasca County indicated they were “challenged” or “vulnerable” when responding to survey questions used to determine if they have the skills, attitudes, and values indicating they feel accepted and feel good about themselves. This tells me that more kids are at risk than I had expected.  In my work as a Promise Fellow, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with many of our youth about their concerns.   When asked about the changes they would like to see in their communities, the conversation turns to developing relationships to help them feel supported and accepted.

In our small towns,  we often put on blinders that keep us from seeing the new and changing face of our communities. I’ve seen this in myself.  I have deep roots in my community; it’s easy to stay within my comfort zone, not branching outside my primary social circles. I was confronted with this very issue earlier this month when a relatively new member of my community asked me how she could get to know more people.  I realized she shouldn’t have had to ask. The first time I met her was my opportunity to extend an invitation to her to be involved.

Dr. King once said to an audience in Montgomery, Alabama: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” When planning for community action, the first step can simply be this:  check to see if we are including all voices in our planning process. When we ask: “what are we doing for others”, we must first ask:  “are we including everyone’s voice in our planning?”  Whose voice might be missing?