Saturday, June 30, 2007

Day 3: Wrapping Up and Moving Forward

The day began with a talk with Leslie, an 18-year-old woman from Chicago. She described the day before meeting with her state legislators. "They all met us in a humble and listening manner. Congressman Rush moved from behind his desk. He told us that he wasn't going to do all the talking." Leslie says that when she returns home she wants to treat her own community with more respect. She hopes to encourage other young people to get involved in advocacy too. She calls the past 15 weeks and the past few days in Washington D.C. "unforgettable. A once in a lifetime event. I've met people this week that I probably would've never met in my life."

Next up on the day's agenda was a choice of four workshops with topics including the environment and social justice, consensus building, oppression, and coalition building. The workshop on oppression—taught by one of the leaders from the Seattle group, Joseph Seia—offered a variety of exercises. One involved people crossing from one side of the room to the other when he read off a description that fit them: "Cross over if you're under 21; cross over if your parents didn't finish school; cross over if you think you're overweight." All these statements were followed by stereotypes or facts associated with this criteria. Joseph did this exercise to demonstrate that everyone is both oppressed and oppressor at some point in their lives.

After lunch, people boarded buses for sightseeing trips. Some chose to visit the Washington D.C. Zoo while others opted for museums and national monuments. People from different cities, who were strangers just two days ago, joked and laughed together like old friends.

The evening's program included a speech by Juan Pacheco, a World Vision employee who works with the Norther Virginia Community Mobilization Initiative. He described his journey from troubled teen to someone who now works with troubled teens. He encouraged the group to reach out to marginalized young people in their communities. "Put life into the things that you want to change", Juan urged the group. "Be the vehicle of hope for other young people in your community." "Change takes time," he told them—encouraging them to continue pushing forward with the work they have begun this past 15 weeks.

The group cheered enthusiastically for Juan's speech and gave him a standing ovation. One young woman was moved to tears as she thanked him. "Everything was a blessing. Just listening to them helps us to move on and continue in our community."

The feeling seems to be unanimous about the first Youth Empowerment Summit as well. As the young people now head for home, they realize that they have power to make a big difference and lasting impact in their cities, their states, and their world.

This conference was supported by and produced with funds from Award No. 2005-JL-FX-0142 awarded by the United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

No comments: