Being A Supportive Ally – Everything is the Same and Everything Has Changed
Part I: What it means to me to be an adult ally* to youth leaders with lived experience
Written by Gwen White
I have dedicated time and energy to being an adult ally for many years. I have been energized for a long time by conversations around what adult and youth partnership looks like. A critical part of these conversations, in my experience, is the consideration of how power dynamics are handled. I have served as an ally while also being the supervisor, team leader, funder, and/or service provider, which can make partnerships complex. The events of 2020, COVID-19, and social unrest are not making these complexities any easier to understand. However, the current environment has solidified my practice of being a supportive ally.
As an adult ally, I am committed to:
Being an adult ally means being committed to learning together. By mid- March it had been identified that the young adult workforce was challenged and hurting as they balanced their personal isolation with the need to continue to care for others. I worked intentionally with my partners to find appropriate resources and supports for young professionals in this environment. Together we curated appropriate resources, hosted conversations, and listened to one another.
Youth leaders have “kept me honest” in my thinking, most often slowing down my desire to act rather than let the dust settle. I have learned that not all young adults love ZOOM and we have to constantly support/seek new ways of sustaining our community. It is important to ASK what is needed and adjust my own practices to the response. My part of the conversation is perspective on why bureaucracy is the way it is and to help identify where there is wiggle room for a workaround.
Providing Support, Space, and Snail Mail
My life during this pandemic is simple compared to the young adult leaders I work with. I am not balancing the needs of children, partners, parents, and peers working in the field. While I am compassionate about the challenges of young adults, my relationship with these challenges is different. At times, I have been able to be a buffer between other professionals, creating space for young adult partners to make the best decisions for their wellness. As people find the space and time to recharge, I have been able to support them.
As an ally, what I have to offer is a space for an honest discussion about personal responsibility. I have enjoyed “walk and talk” appointments with partners that support both our emotional and physical health. I have learned to ask “how are you doing, really?” and to be honest about how I am. Being able to share in that space, mutually, has been important.
This space is important. To listen and respect silence is an art, I have had to learn. Sometimes as partners, we just acknowledge, “it’s Monday again” and move on. I have been taught that a note received via snail mail can be a good way to express support while maintaining space. Notes have become an important tool for both support and space.
Social Media has also become a tool for me during this time. Connections through social media provide information around the joys and challenges of my colleagues. It is an avenue to reach out in a way that fosters partnership. I have the ability to engage in a space where I know that individuals are okay and supported by others. Comments and messaging provide a window into wellness. Through social media I know that there are those that need space personally but are okay in the world of work or vice versa.
Having a network through social media also allows me to see what is happening on a broader scale. I have clues about how people are doing. News of personal accomplishments, milestones, and challenging events provide me with additional ways to be supportive. Allyship is a part of the partnership and in my experience social media also provides a way for others to have a broader perspective on who I am, critical to a trusting partnership.
These tools provide longevity of personal connections that extend past our formal working relationships. Social media allows me to expand the confines of traditional conventions of professional engagement and lets them extend beyond both time and medium. It allows me to become a better ally.
Adult allyship requires a strong belief in the value of generation next and giving the work away. The urgent, intense need for change is owned by these leaders and must be supported. Old ways will not open new doors. Will you join me as a supportive ally to generation next? More resources on Generation Next at the Youth MOVE National website.
As an adult ally, what are other ways that you work to be an ally? Have these changed in 2020 and how?
Gwen White’s career of developing innovative approaches to mental health service delivery for children, young adults, and families, has spanned decades, states, and many, many roles. From Project Director of federal grants in Pennsylvania, to national Training and Technical Assistance expert roles at Georgetown University, CARS, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Gwen has brought her expertise on young adult transitions and systems transformation to many of us. No matter what role Gwen is holding, she is sure to be found in partnership with young adults. Gwen has been a long-time partner, ally, and co-consultant with the Youth MOVE National team and we are honored to share her thoughts on the importance of the role of supportive allies.
*Adults and youth develop reciprocal relationships that are long-term and involve a personal connection, rather than just working in collaboration (Youthwellnesshubs, Ontario https://youthhubs.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Adult-Ally-EN.pdf)