By Kayla Small
This World Demands the Qualities of Youth
In the year 2020, our summer program intern Kayla Small reflects on how young people can make a difference

This spring, turning on the news was a difficult task to bear. Although there have always been injustices in the world, 2020’s plight seemed insurmountable. Between a worldwide pandemic that made economic disparities hopeless, to police brutality against black communities with massive racial tensions, and record levels of unemployment across the United States - it all seemed like just too much. As a classified “young person” I didn’t know what I could do to make any sort of difference for myself, my community, and the world at large. This unsureness, paired with the epic complication the world seemed to be facing became a dynamic but critically important precursor to my summer working as a legal intern for Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights (RFK Human Rights).

This summer's experiences and the work that I was completing with the team became a critical part of answering my question “how can young people make a sustainable difference?” As I near the end of my summer at RFK Human Rights, the answer to these questions falls into the three parts; an ability to find your voice, treating others with dignity, and the importance of working as a team. The first was the ability to find your voice. For a long time, I thought having a voice meant screaming into a bullhorn at the front of a rally what you think. Although, wonderful for some, that was not my natural scene. Through watching RFK Human Rights’  programs like Speak Truth to Power and Young Leaders -  I discovered that finding your voice could be a lot more subtle. Speak Truth to Power and Young Leaders give students the tools to speak out; like workshops and educational webinars to learn how to write compelling articles and rally people together. It was about having the courage to say how you felt fully knowing that another person could disagree. What if finding your voice was listening to other people’s experiences to form your own opinion? Finding my voice became synonymous with care and intentionality around everything I did.

The second piece to making a difference in the world of human rights seemed obvious, but this summer I was forced to reckon with how much I actually did it; treating other people with dignity. This pandemic opened the eyes of many folks, that small and seemingly arbitrary actions make a huge difference. The person who delivers us our groceries deserves the same care and respect as the person who gave us our last promotion. After ending a webinar around our Workplace Dignity Program I better understood that treating people with dignity leaks into so many parts of their lives. Taking the time to learn someone’s name and respecting another person's identity is what human rights work is all about. 

Finally, specifically in my role as an undergraduate legal intern I got to embrace the bigger picture and understand the final answer to my question. My work with International Advocacy and Litigation helped me comprehend  the breadth of making change, but also come to terms with how long it can take. The cases, like Vicky Hernández and Claudina Isabel,  took years to complete and multiple teams of people. You can be one piece to the puzzle, but enlisting people you trust is a great way to make ripples of change. 

Although some of these revelations may seem terribly obvious it feels empowering to know that there are things I can do everyday that lead to a better world and a better me. Bobby Kennedy once said “This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease.” As I am constantly reevaluating what is important to me and how to achieve it one thing is clear. In a meeting with Kerry Kennedy earlier this summer someone asked her how she continues to make change? Her answer; in my life I lead with a loving heart. Human Rights change for anyone, but especially young people is just that. Embrace the adventure of life and lead with a loving heart.