Youth Speak Truth, Plant Seeds of Resistance at Youth Unite! Conference
Last weekend, 70 youth came together for the second annual Youth Unite! Conference at the YWCA in Brooklyn. With workshops, an open mic, a community dinner, and more, it was a powerful event that left participants feeling unified in their shared goals.
All participants joined in Organizing 101, led by our returning Brooklyn Youth Fellows Alex, Daniel, and Peace. The workshop featured a powerful analysis of oppression and a collective history and herstory wall of activist heroes and heroines to guide and ground activists’ work.
Four workshop tracks were built around the intersections of our justice pillars and movement building. LGBTQ justice, economic and housing justice, public health and reproductive justice, food and environmental justice, immigrant justice, education justice, and racial and gender justice were the foundations of conversations throughout the day.
In “Seeds of Resistance: Reduce, Reuse, ReBUILD,” an environmental and housing justice workshop, Nafi & Jean led participants in exploring the impact of food deserts and gentrification in Brooklyn—sparking a conversation about how youth can take action and rebuild their own communities through community gardens. All participants left the workshop with their own small pepper plant that they learned how to nurture to grow for future food.
Local activist organizations were also represented at the conference, including Atlas DIY, HOLLA, Arab American Family Support Center, Highline Teens, Exalt Youth, Ifetayo, Sadie Nash Leadership Project, Girls for Gender Equity, and Creative Time.
Nana and Ronke facilitated “Voices Unbroken: Using Spoken Word to Raise Awareness and Rise up Against Gender-Based Violence,” in which participants unpacked different types of gender-based violence and talked about movements sparked to combat violence such as the #MeToo Movement and “I am Not your _______________” street art campaign. The workshop concluded by reading Ntozake Shange’s iconic piece “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff” and created poems and spoken word pieces inspired by her work—and the ways women artivists are resisting violence through their art.
In “#ILoveMe: How You Gonna Win if You Ain’t Right Within” Sharon, Anyah, and Sierra examined the intersections of racial and gender justice and healing justice by speaking about the importance of self-care and positive body image. Participants learned how to make healthy smoothies named after social justice activists (Davis n’ Cream and Mandela Mix, for example).
Youth activists interested in storytelling joined “Speak Your Truth: How Silence Hinders Justice” led by Tianeisha, Keron and Zainab, where they shared their stories as a tool of resistance and community building. While exploring our own stories in the context of justice, the workshop leaders invited participants to imagine what justice in our communities looks, feels, sounds and tastes like.
A new addition this year was a community open mic, and activists enjoyed sharing raps, poems, stories, freedom songs, and pieces they had just created in their workshops. Participants bonded over the experiences of being in a space led by young people and eating halal food from a local immigrant-run business. Other activities included a social justice photobooth, a storytelling booth, and a mural.
"We need to be together and be fighting together," said Alex, on the importance of creating youth-led spaces for organizing.
Planning is already underway for next year’s Youth Unite! Conference, and we look forward to seeing what Brooklyn youth will accomplish in the year ahead. Until then, Brooklyn Youth Fellows are accepting applications for their 2018 Youth Voice Awards. Project proposals are due Wednesday, April 11.