History & Context

Youth Passageways, as a network and an organization, formally came into being in November 2013, yet its presence as a public organization represents a milestone on a much longer journey.

Youth Passageways formally came into being November 2013. Its presence as an organization represents a milestone on both an ancient human journey and a much more contemporary one.

Throughout human history, initiation and rites of passage for youth have been a central part of human culture. They are our most ancient form of youth development and education. Healthy rites of passage cultivate in young people a sense of cultural history, personal and social responsibility, a connection to nature, a sense of personal purpose, and clarity about social role. They minimize mental health and social issues like suicide, violence, and substance abuse. For a community, they provide a sense of wholeness, meaning, and cohesion that is renewing for all. They ensure the passing of cultural values and a sense of personal responsibility from generation to generation. They foster the creativity and resiliency needed to meet future challenges. For humanity as a whole they can offer a universal connection to Earth as home, the common ground we all share as humans, a global reality that goes beyond culture.

Some communities continue to have intact traditional initiatory processes, although for many they have been lost, forgotten, or suppressed as the forces of modernization drastically changed the world. Recent decades, however, have seen the resurgence of youth initiatory practices in many communities around the world. Some of these have come about as indigenous communities have reclaimed or revitalized ancient traditions. Others have come as efforts of visionaries and cultural explorers who recognized their importance to the healthy development of human beings and felt called to build new forms and practices relevant to our contemporary world.

Over the years the work of these pathfinders touched the hearts of many young people – some as participants of initiatory experiences, others as guides to them, and many as both.   Ideas began to circulate, as did practices. A body of knowledge began to be built, further stimulating conversations and connections. Over many years these conversations and connections formed threads, lineages of wisdom that today are weaving the Youth Passageways network. We might imagine these different threads as slowly weaving together, forming a tapestry whose full picture we cannot yet see, but nevertheless gives us a glimpse of what is needed to raise ALL our children to become whole and healthy adults.

At Youth Passageways we recognize the importance of the various lineages of wisdom and teachings, some ancient and some new, that laid the foundation on which we continue to build today. We cannot begin to do justice here to the richness of the history that allowed for the emergence of Youth Passageways. However soon we will be launching a project to begin to collect personal stories of the pathways people have traveled that today are bringing them to Youth Passageways. From these stories we hope will emerge a living history of the growing movement that Youth Passageways intends to nurture and cultivate. We hope this will provide a more complete picture of the depth and vibrancy of this network as well as begin to illuminate its rich history.

We want to identify two distinct but parallel threads that led directly to the birth of Youth Passageways as an organization aimed at bringing rites of passage to wider prominence as an important dimension of building a healthy and sustainable future.

One of these threads emerged in October 2008 when two visionaries of the rite of passage movement, Melissa Michaels of Golden Bridge/Surfing the Creative and Joshua Gorman of Generation Waking Up, convened a gathering on the island of Hawai’i called “Global Passageways.”   This gathering brought together about a hundred rite of passage practitioners and scholars to engage in a cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary exchange and to explore possibilities for greater collaboration.

Many beautiful connections were woven but difficulties in cross-cultural communication also left both wounds and mistrust. From these emerged a deeper awareness of future work needed to create a truly collaborative multicultural network. The gathering also served as a call to a new generation to take the work to the next level and bring it to bear on the challenges facing our wounded world. The gathering left many with much food for thought; the beginnings of a wider, more active network; a clearer understanding of the work necessary to build an effective public network, and a growing sense of urgency about the importance of establishing rites of passage practices accessible to more youth.

The second thread began from an entirely different direction: the personal and professional quest of filmmaker Frederick Marx of Warrior Films. Starting in the mid 90s with his own initiation into mature masculinity and his subsequent leadership work with the ManKind Project, Frederick became excited by the concepts and practices of rites of passage and inspired by their potential. While in Newark, NJ in 2001, making BOYS TO MEN? about the challenges facing teen boys, he began to imagine a film that would illustrate the power of rites of passage in the lives of all youth.  Beginning work on that film in 2002, his first step was to visit different rite of passage/youth development programs.

As his conversations led from one person or program to another, his passion and sense of urgency about the importance of rites of passage began to grow and he concretized a vision similar to that of Global Passageways to build a collaborative network. In April 2012, under the auspices of his non-profit film company, Frederick convened a gathering of thirty youth rite of passage practitioners in Oakland, California called the Youth Rites of Passage Summit. During that process the two separate threads began naturally to intersect and weave together. In Oakland the intention was affirmed to create an organization to serve as a network for engaging those involved in the full range of youth initiatory efforts.

At the Oakland gathering, Gigi Coyle, with her 35 years experience with rites of passage, Council practice and network building, stepped forward along with Joshua Gorman to join Frederick as a leadership team to carry the intention forward. They took on the tasks of hosting another larger gathering to take the conversation to the next level, enlisting new partners, and coalescing energy toward building an organization. Darcy Ottey, a young leader in the field who had participated in the Global Passageways summit and supported the Oakland Summit, joined them.

Through the efforts of Judy Piazza – one of the Oakland attendees – the Ojai Foundation, due to its long-standing commitment to rites of passage, offered to host a bigger gathering. In April 2013 more than sixty-five leaders came together in Ojai, California for several inspiring days sharing their work, engaging in deep conversations, and weaving stronger connections. This gathering also concluded with a strong commitment to form a non-profit entity, this time with a broader base and commitments from many more prospective partners.

By Fall 2013, the same four key players – Gigi, Joshua, Frederick, and Darcy – raised sufficient contributions to hire a part-time staff coordinator and begin to build a website, both essential infrastructure for a network. A small gathering of representatives of the initial Youth Passageways network was held at LeapNOW! in Sonoma County, CA to collaborate on foundational principles and values and establish an initial Stewardship Council. Darcy Ottey was named and empowered to carry out and coordinate initial work with the help of a small Leadership Team and the support of the Stewardship Council. Joshua Gorman continued his strong leadership of this effort, stepping into the role of chair of the Stewardship Council.

All along the way, attention has been paid to building healthy relationships and creating empowering and respectful communication and organizational processes to make sure we embody our values and principles.

In Fall 2014, the Youth Passageways website was launched. The rest of the story is now up to us. We invite you to join with us to carry this history into the future for all our people and all our communities, as we strengthen our voices so that they can be heard more widely and have a greater impact on the kind of human beings we’re growing on this planet!