21 // Not Here For The Kai

Before I get into this, I want to take this opportunity to pay my respects to William Tailby. You were my first real boss when I sat on the Board of Trustees as the Student Rep in 2012. In the hallways and the classrooms you treated me like a school kid who had a lot to learn about discipline and professionalism. In the boardroom, you treated me as a fellow board member with nothing but respect and class. I’m sorry I gave you so much trouble with KC Memes and bananas on the roof. If you were still walking this earth, there would still be no way I could thank you enough for what you taught me about being a professional and how you treated me like one. Rest In Peace

There are many of situations you will endure where you don’t feel truly involved. The discussion surrounds you, but will never include you. A few months ago, I got the opportunity to work for the Partnership Fund Board under the Ministry of Youth Development. I sit at the top of youth decision making in my perspective and am treated like a professional at every given moment. However, I had to go through the ‘poster boy experiences’ throughout my last few years as a valuable youth voice. I hope you can learn from them as I did; if not I hope you feel comfort in knowing you’re not alone in that struggle.


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As someone under the age of 24, it can be hard to get yourself into places where you can become a ‘mover and shaker’. Decision making opportunities are hard to come by and you’ve really gotta be in the right place at the right time to capture them. Imagine having the energy and time in a job where you get to decide the fate of dreams, money and ideas. As a glorified young person, any job that comes close to that sounds wild. As you can probably assume from Biscuits and Banquets, I’m more than happy to hustle until it’s my turn.

Those who go to university will be craving these opportunities. I’ve seen my peers do frivolous things to be in with a chance to win a position like that. A lot of these opportunities are examples of ‘tokenism’ and you’ll be treated like the 7 year old at the adult’s table at Christmas dinner. Yeah what you said may have been factual and given valuable insight into youth opinion around engagement and policy; but there’s a reason you’re the one with the bib on. Susan on the other side of the table has been in this sector for 21 years and has three children. I dare you to look her in the eyes and tell her she’s mistaken.

However, not all of these opportunities will involve you being the token minority. There are times when local boards and groups need a young person for specific cases. They need your voice and popularity among your pairs to share their news and connect more with the intended demographic. When that’s done, can you look and smile into the camera? It’s gonna go all over our website, instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn etc... Weekends pass and you don’t hear from them. You leave voicemails and emails start to bounce back with out of office and vacation automated replies. You’ve just had your first ‘poster boy’ experience and you probably feel more worthless than a plastic bag.

A few years ago, I sat down at a monthly meeting for my fourth time in the year. Minutes were read out from last meeting and the quarterly report was tabled. Forty minutes into the meeting I was asked a question on the financial situations of students from X & Y.  This is something I could have only speculated as I didn’t know enough about income earned by Northland families, so I took my time in answering. Before I could get three words into my answer, the member two spaces to my left said,
“How is he gonna know? He’s only here for the food after, isn’t that right Kii” followed by the laughs of three other members.

I laughed along to maintain the positive atmosphere.
I never did answer that question and I’ll never know the true consequences of that.

I showed up to a Model UN Assembly in Auckland while I was still attending Kaitaia College. I’d never been inside an Auckland school auditorium before so I was nervous. During the second day interval, a teacher asked me how I found the entire event. We talked for a good 30 seconds before he asked me the question I could tell he was dying to ask me, “Where are you from?”
“Kaitaia College”, I responded. We then talked about the trip down and what I took from the event. “You could probably take a few girl’s phone numbers back up too HYE HAH”.

Bro. What?

Let me lay down some commandments for you right now before things  get out of hand. I’m not here to be your poster boy or token young black Northlander. I’m not here just for the food. I’m not here for the girls. I get sick to my stomach when you assume I don’t take this seriously. I’m in a position to make actual change to the lives of my peers and their children and I won’t be denied the opportunity to do it correctly.

If you’re stuck in this situation, I need you to know you’re gonna be disappointed at times. You’ll leave meetings feeling unheard and angry. You may feel undervalued and it could have an effect on your mental health. Your ideas may have been disregarded as silly and your ideas may have been called ‘dreams’ and labelled unachievable. Don’t let the woman across the table from you who can’t text back on a 5S because the screen is cracked disregard your opinion on technology. Don’t let the guy at the head of the table respond to your questions without eye contact.

Do everything you can to show your true value. Don’t ever forget these people, because they’ll be the same ones asking you whether their nephew can have a job.

Callum Turnbull