Founded in 2015, A Youth Mind (AYM) seeks to be an initiative to create long-standing peace-based impact through rethinking, redeveloping, and implementing new projects and policy which provide for a more peaceful, sustainable future. Nextgen met with Campbell Erickson, founder and executive director, to talk about his Texas-based organization and the new generation of youth. Connect with them on Facebook and Twitter!
Q: What was the inspiration behind A Youth Mind and how did you first start it out?
A: A Youth Mind first started as a photography project. The idea was to give young people the power to tell their own stories with their own cameras. For the first few projects, we used disposables and lined papers. What we quickly found was that young people have a lot of power bottled up within that isn’t always given a stage or audience. We’ve grown a lot as an organization, but today we see ourselves as a stage for young people around the world to collaborate, communicate, or create new things. Young people see the world differently and they deserve a seat at any decision making table.
What has A Youth Mind brought to the table and what is its current focus?
Our mission as an organization is to facilitate the research or development of programs, initiatives, or policy that can lead to a more sustainable and peaceful future. Our niche is that we believe young people hold some of the greatest ideas and insights into the systems that define our society. Our current focus right now is spread out across a couple different initiatives. The majority of our assets are focused on developing the first ever South Sudan Youth Entrepreneurship Summit (SSYES), the purpose being to build connections between ongoing peace and the power of entrepreneurship. Along with SSYES, among smaller, still-growing projects, we are also working on running a tribal-communication project in Madagascar and continuing to facilitate the peer-peer photography/storytelling projects that are the foundation of A Youth Mind!
What are the most significant challenges that you face in running this organization and how are you addressing them?
Running A Youth Mind has been a lot of fun, I’ve gained more knowledge about the world though this organization than I ever thought I would have the opportunity to attain. But running an organization as a high schooler isn’t always all fun and games… time is of the essence. In many ways, AYM has matured as I’ve learned to manage my time and gained more knowledge about the world. It's led to doing high school differently than most other high-achieving youth, focusing on my passions and pursuing knowledge that I find valuable rather than having worksheets over worksheets shoveled onto my plate.
How is A Youth Mind different from similar youth-led organizations or initiatives?
AYM is in many ways one-of-a-kind. I may be slightly biased in this opinion, but I truly believe that our networks and minds are the leaders of tomorrow. And let me emphasize, the leaders of the entire tomorrow, not just the most developed nations or privileged youth. We operate around conflict, around poverty, around tribalism. We are diverse in our initiatives and projects.
What are your thoughts about the newest generation of youth and their level of interest in non-profit causes?
I think this most recent generation that is coming of age, Generation Z, has a lot of information that many generations in the past, even the Millennials, didn’t necessarily have access to… Of the youth I know, many understand that there is an unhealthy relationship between the developing world and the developed world. Many also understand that the systems that defined how we’ve grown up need to redesigned. That being said, I don’t see it as modern counterculture. I see it simply as the way our generation interprets the world. I would also say that our generation is inherently well-meaning. We’ve grown up with social media, with computers in our hands since we were in middle school, and this has created both an appreciation for social work and a sense of responsibility for many. We’ve had war at our fingertips for as long as we have known and this has driven many of us to crave peace.
Who or what is your role model and why?
I look up to both of my parents; they’ve always encouraged me to do what’s best for me and step outside my comfort zone, and that takes a lot of courage and trust as a parent to do. I wouldn’t be here today without the independence that they’ve provided for me and opportunities they’ve enabled for me.
How do you see yourself 10 and 20 years from now?
No clue! And I absolutely love that. I could be doing anything from on-the-ground aid work in conflict zones, to journalism, to being involved in the U.S. government, to maybe even working with EWI! The future is a mystery, and I’m excited to see what’s in store.