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For the Sake of Gen Z

By Lauryn Bradley, CALC Youth Advisor

Born between the 1996- 2014, Generation-Z (gen-Z) makes up 24.3% of the U.S. population, as estimated by the 2016 U.S. American Community Survey. Gen-Z is the generation known for being too technology-reliant, too private and closed off, lost minds trying to make it through adolescence, the generation that hides behind a screen, the generation that’s more anxious than ever. But what does it really mean to be in gen-Z? What do these preconceived notions from other generations have to do with gen-Z?

That’s what the Colorado Public Health Parks and Recreation Collaborative wanted to get to the root of during their 2020 Summit: “For the Sake of Gen Z: Shaping the Future of Health.” This summit took place on Friday, February 28th, 2020 at the Bison Ridge Recreation Center in Commerce City. Being able to attend this summit and be a part of the wonderful planning team was an amazing opportunity, especially as someone in gen-Z. During the summit we had the chance to hear from extraordinary youth and professionals that believe strongly in what they do, while also empowering youth. The summit had one keynote followed by 6 breakout sessions during the day. I’m going to write about some of the presentations that took place at the summit.

Heather Kennedy and Nariah Smith presented the summit keynote “You Are Enough: Increasing Youth and Adult Belonging.” This presentation was both inspiring and heart-wrenching to hear. Nariah, a high school student, shared her story of what it’s like being in high school as someone in gen-Z. She shared her struggles and the challenges she’s had to endure being an impressionable youth within her high school classes. Her story showed how the adults in youths’ lives need to be more aware of what they say and do, because their actions have lasting impressions on the person they interact with.

True or False?

The keynote included several true or false questions. “True or False: Social media is the primary reason for loneliness and lack of belonging.” The answer was false: there is an array of complex factors that contribute to a society more isolated/disconnected than ever before. Another question was, “True or False: Gen-Z is the loneliest generation based on two recent large surveys.” The answer to this question is unfortunately true. After hearing these questions, what stuck with me most was how much gen-z is struggling with high rates of loneliness and the feeling of not belonging.

Heather Kennedy shared her story too, but hers was more on the positive side, talking about her work she does with youth. She emphasized the importance of adults trying to make an effort and to try working with youth in any way possible, to try and make a connection with them and build strong relationships. Speaking specifically to adults, Kennedy challenged them be the change that youth need, and emphasized that how adults interact with them is what they will take away and what they will project in the community. Ending a wonderful presentation, Nariah recited a poem called “You Are Who You’ve Been Looking For” by Adam Roa.

Hearing from the Youth

Providing more wise words from the wonderful gen-Z, three members of the Meadows Park Action Coalition (MPAC) Kevyn Glanton, Richie Harris, and AJ Nelson presented alongside Brian Kates with Colorado Springs Parks & Recreation. In their session “What It’s Like Being Gen Z?!?”, presenters did a live Q&A. Even though they were some of the youngest presenters at the summit you could see and hear the passion in what they do in their communities. The three of them talked about the passion they have for preventing youth from ever feeling the urge to pick up tobacco and helping them get more active and out in nature. This group of students is very driven, wise, and has a great future ahead of them. Their work at the recreation center is inspirational and an example to other youth. Your voice matters, and you can do something about it no matter how young or old you are.

The final one session I wanted to talk about was, “Building the Foundation of our Future Today.” This session was presented by Pueblo high school students Colter DeWitt and Alex Romero, and some of the City of Pueblo’s youth advisors. During this presentation Colter and Alex talked about the work they do but they wanted to leave time for their youth to talk and bring awareness to what they are doing on a project “Break the Chain.” The session description says it all: “Youth are already leaders- let’s get to work.” The youth advisors discussed an event that they are planning this spring to bring youth together and give them a chance to learn about what tobacco is doing to them, how to quit, and the resources they can access, along with establishing a scholarship for youth to give them another resource to pay for school that they may not be given otherwise. Colter ended the session with a dynamic speech with the message about giving youth a chance, reminding attendees that not everyone is able to have the same opportunities as others so it’s important to build them up too and help them learn and experience new things.

List of the other session and the presenters:

  • Lessons From a Black Girl- Adventures in Creating Safe Spaces for Youth of Color, presented by Victoria Harwell

  • Promoting Authentic Connection: How fostering a relationship with nature can support the mental health of our youth, presented by Julia Senecal and Kristen Greenwald

  • Leveraging Community Partners and Youth in Tobacco Prevention and Cessation, presented by Vanessa St Clair and Gretchen Smith

  • Youth and Social Media- Trends, Triumphs & Cat Memes, presented by Jonathan Judge

The summit wasn’t just business, we got to participate in some fun and games during the day, including a giant game of Jenga sponsored by Tobacco 303, a tour of the rec. center, and a get moving walking tour around the property. Near the end of the day one final break was a group Cupid Shuffle dance.

What do you know about Gen-Z?

How many high school youth in Colorado have ever tried an electronic vapor product?

13%, 28%, 44% or 67%?

True or False? According to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS), 80% of Colorado students have an adult to go to for help with a serious problem.

Answers: 44%; False, but we are getting close. ​According to HKCS, 73.5% of students have an adult to go to for help with a serious problem. ​And this percentage does not include the youth who are currently not in school.

The importance of having positive adult interactions during a young adult's life cannot be understated. Many times, adults have the responsibility of exposing youth to a system or idea for the first time. ​From a substitute teacher in a school, to a police officer at a park, adults are interacting with you constantly, the question is how are we using that opportunity?

This summit for me was an eye-opening experience. I was able to hear the perspectives of other youth in Colorado and hear more from professionals on the work they do and how they support youth. In my work with both youth in the Denver communities and the professionals in the fields that affect youth, it’s amazing to see how they embrace everyone no matter their age or experience. They work with everyone, so they can get something out of it and not feel restricted. My advice? Be patient with gen-Z and help them learn and understand. And try to engage with the youth you may not normally engage with.

Thank you so much too Jo Burns for putting this event together, the 2020 planning committee for all your dedication for helping this event run smoothly, and to the wonderful sponsors of this amazing summit. And check out this video we put together of all the topics and activities. I can’t wait till next year!

72 views1 comment



This is a most excellent write-up.

Wow, I truly am feeling the author's enthusiasm myself!

This article just really solidified to me what I really am glued to - the youth are always the way towards a better future and make me have faith in humanity.

Gen Z may seem lost or aimless, like every other youth generation before them (!!), but the wonderful intelligence of these youth that truly "get it" are surely making inroads for a better tomorrow!

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