Mel Martin recently voyaged across the world to San Francisco, Oakland, and the famous University of Berkeley, California to observe a Young Workers Leadership Academy hosted by the Labor Occupational Health Program.

I’m not short, and I’m not particularly hairy, but I do consider myself somewhat of a Hobbit; comfortable and happy in my little corner of the world. Getting the opportunity to do some major travel through my work with the Young Workers Resource Centre (YWRC) is not something I or the Centre would have ever thought feasible!

Nevertheless, thanks to the hard work of twenty-five years of YWRC staff and committees, resources were able to be pooled, connections were made, and getting on an international flight for the third time in my life is exactly what happened.

I’d never been on a plane for longer than four hours, and I had no idea what to expect or whether I was going to have a hell of a time. It turns out I wasn’t. – Travel tip: You might look like a moron with one of those curved neck pillows, but I swear your body will thank you for getting one!

Los Angeles, California

The flights from Auckland to Sydney, to LA, to San Francisco were an adventure unto themselves. Hustling and bustling of airports, and travellers absolutely needing to reach their destination before anyone else was unlike anything this Hobbit had ever experienced.

I arrived safely in San Francisco, even though my luggage did not (don’t get me started!), and I did the unfathomable… I picked up the car I had hired.

It might have been slightly less stressful learning to drive a backwards car on the wrong side of the road, had I not just been in transit for 24 hours. And I may not have sworn at my travel buddy, but with “hug the centre line” and “stay in your lane” running on repeat in the back of my mind, I safely transported myself to the Airbnb with only minor emotional injuries.

I was in California to work, and to meet the people of the Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) at UC Berkeley; but what trip to San Francisco is complete without a driving tour of the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, the island of Alcatraz, the Full House houses, The Castro, and the neighbourhood of Sausalito?

The Castro

“Whatever happened to predictability? The milkman, the paperboy? Evening TV?”

Sing it with me!

“Everywhere you look, everywhere you go there’s a heart (there’s a heart), a hand to hold onto. Everywhere you look, everywhere you go there’s a face of somebody who needs you. When you’re lost out there and you’re all alone, a light is waiting to carry you home…”

The 90’s child inside of me was at home on the stoop of the Tanner’s family abode; and my inner cinephile was captivated by that huge, iconic, red bridge.

And with that wide-eyed optimism, I ended up in the safe hands of Diane Bush, Kelsey Scruggs and their Young Workers team for the Young Workers Leadership Academy (YWLA) 2019.

Essentially, the goal for LOHP was to gather a group of socially minded, young activists, load them up with skills, knowledge, and information, and send them home to further spread the importance of healthy workplaces and work relationships by way of creating a community project in which to share what they learned at the Academy.

For a while I’ve wanted to add a similar sort of programme to the YWRC line-up, and during my time in Berkeley I was moved by teenagers who are hungry to see positive change in their state and in their country.

I learned so much about the liberal state of California and their goals for eradicating mistreatment of youth at work; I learned much more about the future the world’s teenagers anticipate walking into, and it is a place much grimmer than some of us have been imagining.

Gentrification is a growing concern; the loss of entry-level job opportunities to automated systems; poverty and homelessness; climate change, global warming, and the dwindling of the planet’s resources; the cost of higher education.

These are the things that teenagers of the world are worried about being faced with as they enter adulthood.

Educated and empowered young people ensure that we are creating proactive leaders and citizens of the world. Our goal as adults should be to inspire, encourage, and enable our young to be the change they want to see in the world.

I have come home to the YWRC with not only a renewed invigoration for the work we do, but I have come home inspired to keep working towards a fair and just future for every one.

My goal now is to create YWRC Ambassadors in New Zealand high schools, who can be relied on as a gateway in their school and communities for other young people to reach out to us and a wider pool of expertise and employment knowledge.

The most important lesson I took away from being in Berkeley is that there is power in numbers, and many like minds, make great, like-minded choices for the better of a majority.

Because the only thing better than one socially-conscious young person, is many socially-conscious young people!

Watch this space for the excitement that will be the Young Workers Delegate Programme.

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