Reflections from IJR’s Jodi Williams

History has shown us that young people have always possessed the resilience and initiative to fight for change. Today, young people here and across the continent (in the same way) possess the means to drive our communities forward.

It is with this in mind that the Youth Identity Project brought together young people from Bloemfontein and Vryburg in a week-long conference in Vryburg, North West Province from the 24th – 27th of September 2019. This conference was a culmination of two years of dialoguing, relationship building, creative writing workshops, self-development conversations, skills capacity training and the use of creative arts with the same group. Grabbing every opportunity to learn and grow, participants explored how they can contribute to the rebuilding and restoration of their individual and collective human dignity.

The conference ended with a public launch of the publication; Youth Speaks: a collection of poems, short stories and non-fictional pieces written by participants who reflected on themes of human dignity, identities, individual and collective histories, justice and belonging. The written contributions vary in style and interrogate the lived experiences and nuances of being a young person in South Africa, 25 years after the end of Apartheid. Reflecting on the different identities inhabited by young people, this publication offers readers a glimpse into the lives of youth and the ordinary and extraordinary life experiences that make up their life stories.

In the celebration of young people’s contributions to 25 years of democracy, it is young people’s inherent innovation, creativity, talent, ethos, intelligence and resilience that continues to stand out as a timeous reminder that young people can and will bring positive change, and that our job is to help facilitate that change, to help hold space for the realisation of that change, in whatever area or capacity we are able.

One take-home that presented itself throughout the week was that the need to harness our collective strengths and work together in the building of a truly just and free society, is growing each day and that we all have our part to play. To do this requires collective vision and the reclamation of space, voice and future.