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Youth, Students, and Educators: Remarks at "CVE Reimagined: Youth and Governments Unite Against Violent Extremism"

Hello! This looks so different than the rooms I’ve been spending the last several days in. It’s great to see you all. Thank you for being here.

And thank you to my wonderful colleagues from the State Department and the Search for Common Ground for bringing us together again.

It was an extraordinary privilege last time to be at the Global Youth Summit Against Violent Extremism in New York. And to be here again and see the next iteration of what has grown unmistakably into a movement is beyond exciting. You all are truly inspiring. And you’re not just inspiring “for a young person.” People like Victor, like Ilwan, and so many others here, you’re inspiring full stop.

At big events like these, it’s pretty standard to say “we’re facing a major test! Or, we’re at this big moment!” – but at the risk of sounding cliché – I’m going to make a case for why, right now, young people really are at a critical juncture.

Think about it. Can any of us remember a time when young people across the globe were so cynically and relentlessly targeted by groups asking them to hand over their futures, their morality, in some cases their very bodies – for such horrific agendas?

But just as important, can any of you remember a time when the world has so explicitly welcomed young people to take a central role in one of the greatest security challenges we face?

Of course, that’s no accident. It’s because ten thousand young people gathered in Amman last August to declare a Youth, Peace, and Security agenda. It’s because of the summit you held here the following month to focus global leaders on the role of youth in countering violent extremism. And it’s because of the amazing work you all do in communities targeted by violent extremists across the globe. Without a doubt, those efforts helped produce the historic U.N. Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace, and Security.

So that invitation to young people has been made official. And while you all should take pride in helping to pry open that door, you’ve now got to walk through it – into the policy, into the bureaucracy, into the politics and inevitable stereotypes you’ll face as young men and women. It won’t be easy, but know that all of us here are allies in that effort.

And in that spirit, I’d like to leave you with three suggestions to help grow and sustain the momentum you’ve helped build.

First, partner with old people. Or older people, I should say. Young people can do truly amazing things together, but you need the rest of us – in government, the private sector, foundations, and academia – to help take your efforts to the next level. So network with the people here. Follow-up with them. Don’t be afraid to ask for their help, and ask again. And to my friends from government here today, answer that call and ask your colleagues to do the same.

Second, partner with the Women, Peace, and Security community. Take a page from their decades-long effort to – and let me borrow a title from today’s event – reimagine the global security conversation, so that many policymakers now see issues like conflict, peace, and even terrorism through a more gendered lens. They’ve overcome many of the same hurdles and attitudes youth will have to as well in the days ahead. So walk the trails they’ve blazed, even as you inevitably chart a unique path for this agenda.

And third – and I see this as a particular challenge for youth – cultivate the next generation of leaders. I hate to break it to you, but you won’t be young forever – and if there isn’t a cohort of folks ready to take over, who know the issues, the partners, the challenges – this agenda will falter. And none of us here want that to happen.

The stakes are too high. The work you do too important. Whether it’s Fatima’s work to help mentor and reintegrate women who’ve escaped the forced, sham marriages to Boko Haram fighters, so they can speak about what they went through and spread the truth about that wicked group. Or the art camps Hardya runs in Indonesia to give young people a chance to channel their talent to create something beautiful instead of join something evil and twisted.

That work has to continue. Those lessons need to be passed on. Because the fight against violent extremism will sadly outlast your youth. But if we keep this going, and if we grow this movement, we can help future generations enjoy theirs.

Thank you very much.