The Joyest Sunlight of Liberation

I would love pain-free liberation—to experience an abundance of joy, a life that comes easy, for a lifetime forever. I would love a limitless vision of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I want to say: I lived happily ever after. 

In my 31 years of experiencing adversity, this pain-free liberation has been impossible to obtain. Yet the ideal of it provides an opportunity to reach. Not just for myself, but for everyone, together.

As the Executive Director of the California Coalition for Youth and the Director of Youth Engagement at the California Children’s Trust, I know young people around our state who are struggling just like I have. They are in foster care, just as I once was. They are living without homes, just as I once did. And during the pandemic, their isolation and stress is heavier than ever.

This is a call to action to all decision-makers—elected officials, nonprofit and corporate leaders, leaders of public agencies, and anyone else in a position to decide the quantity and quality of services and supports our young people who are struggling deserve.

Like those young people, I say: I am only strong when we are strong, I am truly beautiful when we are beautiful, I am loved when we are loved. I am because we are. We are ubuntu. We are HUMANITY. 

We experience our humanity through laughs, tears, loss, and love. Our humanity bonds us. When we know better, we must do better. Through life and its plot twists, we gain knowledge and wisdom so we can make more impactful decisions.

We all want the best for ourselves and those closest to us. What I’m asking is that you seek the best also for the young people you see every day who are struggling to find and maintain a safe place to live; to find and keep a life-sustaining job; to complete their education; to take care of their physical and mental health and wellbeing; to envision and grasp hold of a future.

Far too many of California’s youth have been suffering for too long. They’ve been crying for you, for me, for humanity to love them for who they are and who they can become. 

As I said in a recent article in EdSource on California’s students who are homeless, “To reach these kids, it takes trust, it takes sincerity, it takes time. Talk doesn’t cut it. Someone needs to give a damn.”

In a broken world, liberation can only arise within a loving environment that loves first and unconditionally. When someone is broken, love must be patient and provide the support they need to heal. So let’s love our young people. Let’s create the opportunity for them to pursue joy.

We are all LIFE. We are all LOVE. We must be our best selves in the roles we take on. We must keep learning and remain committed to creating the most positively impactful and fruitful life for all.

 Let all that is good in your heart be transparent. Let it anchor your decisions, practices, accountability, and actions to make the world a better place.

We have experienced darkness for a long stretch. Light will bring joy and liberation. In this moment, we must forge forward in light and love to develop the world that can be. It starts with an open you and an open I.

Jevon Wilkes is the Executive Director of the California Coalition for Youth and the Director of Youth Engagement at the California Children’s Trust. He is also a husband and father.