Image Credit: Edwin Remsberg
4-H is one of the most powerful youth development programs in the world. 4-H has the ability to connect youth from all corners of a county, state, country, and globe. Our program opens doors for young people to experience new things, meet new people, forge relationships with caring adults, and have perhaps their first exposure to colleges and careers. For many, 4-H is the 1st class of a land grant university.
However, historically 4-H has not always been made available to all youth. For instance, here in the state of Maryland, 4-H was once segregated by race and gender. As part of the University of Maryland College Park's onboarding program, President Pines asserts “it is important to understand ways in which particular groups face discrimination and learn ways to advance inclusion and take actions to advance equity and social justice”. How are we able to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges if we limit youth development to only a fraction of our population?
For the last several decades, 4-H programs around the country have committed to a promise to remove barriers and increase access for all youth to experience what 4-H has to offer. Today, 4-H reaches youth in rural, suburban, and urban communities across our state and country. We provide programming in a variety of areas ranging from animal science and agricultural literacy to civic engagement and social justice. One of our fastest-growing programs in Maryland has been our STEM robotics program.
Maryland 4-H, delivered proudly in partnership with University of Maryland Eastern Shore, isn’t one area of focus, a single competitive event, or any particular workshop--4-H is the positive youth development that happens throughout the experience. Youth across our state learn new skills and engage in a variety of experiences that follow them far into adulthood. 4-Hers forge lasting positive relationships with caring adults and friends from near and far.
While we have made tremendous strides in opening doors for all youth to experience 4-H, there is still work yet to be done. Nationally, 4-H has made a commitment to embrace the rich diversity of youth, families and communities that comprise our nation. National 4-H leaders share that “uniting toward an inclusive, diverse and equitable 4-H is the fuel we need to increase access for all youth, families, and communities—in every town, every city and every corner of America”.
At this very moment, we are living in a pivotal time in history--a time that will shape our society’s culture for generations to come. The world needs the heads, hearts, hands, and health of our youth.
As your Maryland 4-H program leader, here is my promise to you. We will continue to invest in the power of our young people, no matter their location, race, ethnicity, gender, or individual identity by highlighting and cultivating their valuable strengths and real influence to improve the world around us. This will be true in all communities across our state so that together we respond to the needs and circumstances of all Maryland communities. We will celebrate the longstanding richness of our programs and people while opening doors to those who have not had the same opportunity. Maryland 4-H will continue to provide a supportive and inclusive program for all youth to reach their fullest potential and dream big!
We look forward to an exciting future for Maryland 4-H, with renewed purpose and promise for all families who look to participate in a positive youth development experience.
~Dr. Nia Imani Fields