By Megan Dwyer
Have you ever heard the laughter of 20 young people simultaneously echo off a canyon wall? Maybe you’ve felt it: vibrations rippling through your body. During these remarkable moments, I sometimes find myself sitting back to take it all in, impressed by the sheer volume of joy expelled into the open air. Other times I join in, and my laughter erupts at such magnitudes I scare birds into flight and shock even myself.
But the real treat? It’s listening to the still moments on a GCY trip. Those moments when we are all engrossed in something: creating a piece of art, napping, daydreaming, journaling, rock skipping, star gazing. Because if you really listen, you can still hear everyone’s voices. She’s sitting on a rock, basking in the warm sun and enjoying the feeling of her anxiety melting away. They are discussing with themselves how best to capture the beauty of the landscape in a drawing. He is exploring a new passion as he watches his first shooting star streak across the sky. A small group is attempting to eternalize the magic of these memories by crafting friendship bracelets. This is a true cacophony, one of reflection and discovery. This is what I live for.
I enjoy this so much because I remember the first time I experienced it. Convinced by a friend to join a Grand Canyon Youth club in middle school, I eventually found myself on the banks of the San Juan River. It was here I learned to listen for my voice. It was here I embarked on a life-long journey of reflection and discovery.
Since that trip, and the countless others that have followed, I have had to do my research. Back then, I knew nothing of the history of this place. I did not know I was visiting the traditional land of the Diné, Hopi, Paiute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni tribes, nor how these tribes have fought and continue to fight to reclaim and protect their land. I have followed the story of the sand I felt between my toes, explored the relationship between flora and fauna, discussed the politics of access, and studied the variable threats to water and Mother Earth from all forms of extortion. I can too easily forget how my identity, one that society so readily accepts, limits my perspective. I will always have more to learn.
GCY provides young people time to play and learn in nature. That is, however, only one small part of it. GCY also gives us an opportunity to practice and feel the impact of community care, to be valued and empowered, to meet and learn from other human beings with values and perspectives different from our own. Before the expedition starts, we engage our bodies and minds in community service. As the trip comes to an end, we begin cultivating our voices so we can advocate for the things we care about.
I see the value of experiences like these now, more than ever. Our livelihoods have always depended on thoughtful, intentional, collective civic engagement. Now, I find myself finally waking up to what that really means, joining the countless others who have been fighting for hundreds of years to interrupt and dismantle the injustices threatening the people and places we love, our communities, and our world. I believe we can and we must do this work. Together.
In this small corner of the world, GCY captures the attention of young people with the thrill of whitewater rapids and time outside. Through these experiences, we are given something we never expected. When we return to our home communities, it is with something to say. Our voices, spoken with such conviction, echo across generations with the power to create positive, lasting change.
Take a moment to listen.
Do you hear us?