When We Underestimate Youth Leaders

There is a near constant flurry of activity on the Loyola Lakeshore campus. It’s going on day 3 here in Chicago, IL at Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership’s longest and largest youth leadership event, the World Leadership Congress (WLC). Group sing-alongs and dance parties erupt out of thin air. Pedestrian traffic halts for spontaneous hugs and high fives. The sea of blue and yellow shirts moving into and out of auditoriums and dorms flows with both the purpose and chaos of an ocean current. Conversation drifts seamlessly from the latest song by Cardi B to the merits of intersectionality in the youth leadership landscape. Every session, activity or workshop provides the 419 teens from across the globe another opportunity to discover the unique gifts and points of view they have to offer to a much larger conversation about the role that youth will play in all our futures.

HOBY’s founder Hugh O’Brian believed that every young person has the ability to make a significant, positive impact in their community- now. You see this playing out in various ways across the country and the world with student-organized marches and advocacy work by young people like Malala Yousafzai. Under the guidance of 100 volunteers, following Hugh’s adage of “teaching students how to think, not what to think,” every hour WLC ambassadors from 14 countries including Albania, Argentina, Bolivia, Canada, China, France, Hong Kong, Mexico, The Republic of Korea (South Korea), Spain, Taiwan, Turkey, The UK, and the United States, are challenged to step outside their comfort zones and to make deeper more meaningful connections with people that are and think differently than they do. This is has yielded the following pearls of wisdom;

Angela McCall‏ @a_mccall
#IBelieve in providing to others what I have been provided.

M‏ @madelynbergman
With creating awareness, others may find their own route of inspiration/passion. Although it may not be the same as our own, we’re promoting their way of positive impact. #believe #HOBYWLC2018

Spencer Cook‏ @TheSpencerCook
“Teenagers today are in an era where they are expected to act like adults while still being treated like children” #IBelieve #HOBYWLC2018

Yuliana‏ @yuliana_tsapar
Enacting change in my community is making connections and starting the necessary conversations to make the world a safer place #HOBYWLC2018

When we ask young people to wait till they’re older, we lose this. We postpone the change we actually want. By doubting youth leaders’ ability to affect change, we fold on the impact they would make and we rob them of the confidence and support they will need to believe they can make an impact as an adult. When youth leaders are underestimated, we cast doubt on our own future. We choose comfort and control over cooperation and growth. But all it takes is one person to say “I believe in your power to make a difference.” All 419 ambassadors are at the WLC because someone believed in their potential. Let’s have more of that.

People who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt those who are doing it.
– George Bernard Shaw


Want to go to WLC? Enrollment is open to 2019 and 2018 U.S. HOBY ambassadors who have previously not attended the WLC. Registration opens in the fall of 2018, make sure you are subscribed to our mailing list to be the first to know.