By John Henry Ledwith | January 11, 2017
National Sales Manager, ETR
We’ve had some seriously rainy weather in Northern California this past week. The storm outside was a good incentive for me to do a little clean-up and organizing inside.
As I opened file drawers and cabinet doors, I ploughed through several years’ worth of articles, notes, photos and papers. Some were still keepers. And others—ideas past their prime—went off to recycle.
One of the “good finds” in the process was my hardcopy of this old AJPH article about my friend and mentor Bill Kane. If you didn’t know Bill, you should take a look at the article. Bill was a consummate model of how to do public health work with passion, and he is one of our true heroes of school health education.
Bill had a thousand great ideas, but two of the most important to him were mentorship and advocacy. When he mentored a student or young professional or colleague, he didn’t sit around sharing his personal wisdom with them. He got out in the world and opened doors for them. He created opportunities for people to step into leadership roles.
He was also a big fan of the power of advocacy. Remember Standard 8 in the National Health Education Standards? Students will demonstrate the ability to advocate for personal, family, and community health. Bill was on the committee that first crafted these standards, and this one’s got his name written all over it.
It seems like fate, somehow, that at the same time I pulled out the article about Bill, I found this memorable vacation photo of my siblings and I in front of the U.S. Capitol Building.
Yes, there we all are. I’m the one second from the left, with the skinny legs and the black socks (it was an acceptable fashion statement at the time).
My parents were firm believers in educating their children about participatory democracy. They wanted us to understand how to evaluate information and draw intelligent conclusions about the governance of our nation. They wanted us to feel confident speaking to our representatives (the notebook you see in my hand was to record the name of our member of congress and write down questions I’d like to ask him). They wanted us to know how to advocate effectively for the things we believed in.
Their strategy must have worked. To this day, my sibs and I are all happy to express our opinions to just about anyone on any number of topics. We don’t always agree, but we’ve learned to listen to one another with respect, debate our differences honorably, and take personal steps we believe will make a difference.
This is one of the reasons I believe, along with Bill Kane, that advocacy is such an important subject to teach young people today. And, like Bill, I think health education is a great pathway into the process of advocacy.
We want young people to understand how to act as personal advocates for their own health—asking questions, getting the answers they need and making informed decisions about their behaviors. We want them to act as advocates within their families, supporting good choices about such things as seatbelts, tobacco use, nutrition, physical activity and emotional support. We hope they will also act as advocates at the community level, supporting better school health programs, for example, or working to reduce tobacco advertising near their schools.
There are so many positive byproducts of the practice of advocacy. It can help build self-esteem, strengthen community and create norms supporting mutual respect. Now, more than ever, aren’t these some of the qualities we most want to see in our children and schools? (By the way, if you’re not quite sure whether you can act as an advocate yourself because of your work setting, you might want to take a look at this post by my colleague Vignetta Charles.)
I’m living proof. If you build a love of advocacy early on in a child’s life, it’s a devotion that can last a lifetime.
What are some of the ways you’re helping students learn about and practice advocacy? I’d love to hear about what you’re doing.
John Henry Ledwith is ETR’s Senior Sales Manager. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He would love to hear comments on this post!