'You have it in you to shout': The pope rallies behind teens demanding change.

Pope Francis has become something of a pop culture icon, with over 5 million Instagram followers and a blockbuster documentary set for release this spring. It's not hard to see why.

In the homily of his Palm Sunday Mass, Pope Francis took the opportunity to speak to young people, many of whom were gathered to celebrate the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day.

Palm Sunday at the Vatican. Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images.


Perhaps coincidentally — but probably not — the pope’s words also came a day after the March for Our Lives, a series of worldwide, youth-led demonstrations protesting gun violence. It’s estimated that more than 800,000 people attended the march in Washington, D.C., alone.

Though Pope Francis didn’t mention the March for Our Lives specifically, he might as well have. His message was perfectly timed to encourage the thousands of youth who are advocating for better gun legislation and being met with loud resistance from the NRA and others.

EN:The Church wants to listen to all young people, no one excluded, because we need to better understand what God and history are asking of us. PT: A Igreja quer escutar todos os jovens, nenhum excluído, porque temos necessidade de entender melhor aquilo que Deus e a história nos estão pedindo. ES: La Iglesia desea escuchar a todos los jóvenes, sin excepciones, porque necesitamos comprender mejor lo que Dios y la historia nos están pidiendo. IT: La Chiesa vuole ascoltare tutti i giovani, nessuno escluso, perché abbiamo bisogno di capire meglio quello che Dio e la storia ci stanno chiedendo. FR: L'Église veut écouter tous les jeunes, personne n'est exclu, parce que nous avons besoin de mieux comprendre ce que Dieu et l'histoire sont en train de nous demander. DE: Die Kirche will alle Jugendliche hören, niemand ausgeschlossen, weil wir besser verstehen müssen, was Gott und die Geschichte von uns verlangen. #synod2018, #jovens, #youngpeople, #jovenes

A post shared by Pope Francis (@franciscus) on

First, the pope admonished adults to stop silencing young people.

Pope Francis basically told the grown-ups of the world to back off the young folks, but he did so in his gentle, indirect, pontiff-like way:

“The temptation to silence young people has always existed. There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. Many ways to anesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive.”

I don’t know about you, but what I heard there was, “Hey adults [*cough* NRA]. Knock it off.”

Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images.

Indeed, the number of adults I’ve seen in comments berating our young protesters is appalling. These kids are being told they aren’t old enough to know what they’re talking about despite having been through the trauma of a mass shooting and/or the daily fear of gun violence in their communities. They’re being called puppets, pawns, and shills — as if they couldn't possibly have something to say about the gun violence that directly affects them.

The NRA posted a recruitment video on their Facebook page the day of the march, with the caption, “Today’s protests aren’t spontaneous. Gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites are manipulating and exploiting children as part of their plan to DESTROY the Second Amendment and strip us of our right to defend ourselves and our loved ones.”

Ugh, seriously. Knock it off.

Pope Francis also spoke directly to young people, encouraging them “not to keep quiet.”

The pope then turned his attention to young activists, telling them basically to keep on using their voices to fight for change, even when the grown-ups around them are corrupt, grumpy, and silent:

“Dear young people, you have it in you to shout. It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders, some corrupt, keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?”

The young people in the crowd shouted out, “Yes!”

I may have stood up in my living room and shouted, “Yes!” too. And I’m 43 years old and not even Catholic.

Pope Francis greets the crowd after Palm Sunday Mass in the Vatican. Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images.

I love that the 81-year-old pope, who has the ear of more than a billion Catholics around the world, is uplifting the voices of youth. So often, young people get a bad rap in our society, but I have been blown away by these young activists. Watching the television coverage of the March for Our Lives, I was moved to tears by their eloquence, conviction, maturity, and inclusion. These kids have restored so much of my faith in humanity, and Pope Francis using his substantial pulpit to urge them on just warms my heart.

Two Marjory Stoneman Douglas students were at the Mass in the Vatican, holding gun violence protest signs.

Gabriella Zuniga and Valentina Zuniga are students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students were shot and killed on Feb. 14, 2018. They were in attendance at the mass in the Vatican on March 25, along with their parents, holding signs that read "We are #MSDSTRONG," "Protect Our Children Not Our Guns," and "#NeverAgain."

Pope Francis is an incredibly aware guy. He may not have seen the Zunigas and their signs in the crowd at Palm Sunday Mass, but there's no doubt that he saw the masses of youth leading the March for Our Lives.

And his message to them on Palm Sunday was heard loud and clear: Keep on shouting, kids, no matter how the grown-ups try to silence you.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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