James Kass: Giving voices to urban youth

Robert Redford recognizes the work of James Kass for bringing a voice to the youth in Oakland, California.

Robert Redford | Jan/Feb 2009 issue

James Kass is a force of nature. The hip, bold visionary has created a powerful space within our democracy from which young people can fly bravely out into the world with new found voices, “bringing noise from the margins to the core,” as James would tell you. While I’ve always believed art will find a way to break out in beautiful ways, no matter how much it’s pushed aside, when a determined energy like James’ acts as the wind at the back of art for social change, it explodes in a way that doesn’t allow those in its presence to turn away. In the James Kass equation, art and change are inseparable. New, bold poetic expression is the heart of Youth Speaks, the marvelous organization he created. Youth Speaks challenges young citizens of the world to find, develop, publicly present and apply their voices as creators of social change. I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it. I’m inspired by it. Youth Speaks is the beat of a generation, empowering young leaders who’ll take us through the years ahead in ways we can’t yet imagine. It’s an almost ironic yet completely perfect complement that all of this came to James as a way of combating illiteracy, alienation and silence, while simultaneously creating a global movement of brave new voices speaking truth to power. What could be more intelligently optimistic?

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