Kristeena Monteith: “Enough is enough. It’s time for change”


Kristeena Monteith believes that many issues facing youth in the world come down to a lack of creativity or an ignorance of culture.

Kristeena Monteith, youth activist from Jamaica

“When we are more aware of other people and other cultures, we have a gateway to understanding humanity.”
25 year-old Monteith was born and raised in Jamaica, where today she is the creative producer of a youth-led radio show called Talk Up Radio. The show is the country’s only which is run entirely by staff of young people under 25. Their mission is to use youth media to raise youth voices, and to engage and empower young people to speak about their rights.

She has also recently been appointed as a UN Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals.
Monteith upholds that people who are more in tune with their own culture have a greater respect for others. “If a young person understands the hybrid nature of being human, then they are able to respect other’s rights, and their own. Once a person can say “I am inherently valuable, and my culture is one of the ways I can understand my value,” then it is really a short step from there to understanding the gravity of human rights atrocities.”
A teenager transformed: “You start with a dream”

When she was 19, Monteith recalls she did not have specific career plans. “But once I got into media and writing and doing things I loved, it changed. I met people with all of these massive issues that I could never have imagined coming from a relatively privileged background, and it pushed me forward. In a sense, it radicalised me to say that I need to do something.”

Her advice to other young people who want to get involved in human rights is to start with a dream, or something that you love. “My message is to choose the things you love and pivot them towards social issues. Because that is the only way you will sustain your interest. Find the thing you love – whether it is music, dance, poetry, film, or finance. If you want to be a banker, be a sustainable banker.”

Education in the face of the climate emergency and major global crisis

Speaking recently at the Social Forum in Geneva, which this year focused on children, youth and education, Monteith addressed the urgent need to better adapt education in the context of climate crisis and human rights abuses.

She called on policy makers to think with a long term and more sustainable vision about the way education is designed, and to take into account the fact we are facing a future that is not climate resilient.

Monteith also questioned the current digital focus in school curricula.  “It doesn’t make sense that we are all tech savvy, but then we have no energy or no planet. We need to design education in a way that recognises these problems are enormous and require systemic action. It is incumbent on us to use education in a way that will make it accessible for young people everywhere in the world.”

Youth saddled with a debt of former generations

According to Monteith, young people, more than any generation before them, are dealing with the repercussions of the actions of their parents and grandparents. She says the outlook for the future is bleak at best, especially in terms of climate and human rights. But she remains hopeful, and also believes that young people – more than ever - have a real chance to effect change.

“Viscerally, we feel that we have to change things or else we really won’t have a future. So on every single issue - from human trafficking to climate change - we have the capacity and the verve to make massive change.  We just need the space, and we just need to be taken seriously.”

The power of youth

For Monteith, it is the voice and the power of young people which will be one of the influencing forces for a more positive future.  She speaks proudly of the strength, tenacity, boldness and energy of young people, and the current global wave of youth activism pushing for change amidst crisis.
“We are saying enough is enough, and it’s time for change. It’s so important for young people to understand these issues. We’re not saying we’ve got it all figured out, but we’re concerned about the future, and we need to get involved in the fight.”

This story is part of a series in celebration of Human Rights Day 2019, which focuses on young human rights defenders in action. Learn more about how young people are standing up for human rights.

6 December 2019

Disclaimer: The views, information and opinions expressed in this article are those of the persons featured in the story and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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