Every Conversation on Peace Matters:
Our 2019 Online Youth Summit
By Mary Carroll-Hackett
In Spring 2014, I had a guest speaker in the two sections of a Writing for Active Citizenship I was teaching, a combat-decorated Marine and Longwood alum, who had asked to speak to my classes about local political engagement. He began his presentation by projecting a large photo, one that had played across the media for months, of the 2013 Egyptian Revolution. Even with the picture filled with images of the Egyptian flag, not a single student in the two sections, not one in forty, could identify what was taking place in the picture.
The next class period, I asked them why they felt that had happened. Their answers covered a range of reasons for what they themselves called disconnect, from not knowing what media to trust, to being too busy surviving their own lives, to the one they all agreed upon: being overwhelmed with the fear and sadness such connection created, overwhelmed in the face of twenty-four hour news coverage which led to what they said paralyzed them most: feeling overwhelmed with helplessness. I asked them how we, as educators, could help with that, how we could help them connect. I asked them What would you most connect to—listen to? Their answer: our peers. They all said they wanted two things in support of creating such a personal global connection: to hear from “people who look like us, our age,” and to learn about real, doable actions they could make in their daily lives, as both a way to help those who needed it across the planet, and as a way to combat their own feelings of helplessness.
This is how the Writing for Peace Online Youth Summit came into being.
As we prepare for the third annual summit, to take place Saturday, October 12, 2019, we are more committed than ever to honoring what those young people seek, and to both take and create every opportunity we can to advance conversations that will move us all toward more understanding and compassion.
This year, we are particularly focusing on the What Can We Do question posed by the young people with whom we’ve spoken. Our 2019 keynotes are all young activists who have been working for real change on the front-lines of their communities, and who have been engaged in this way since they were very young. They exemplify the power and effect young people can have in their own communities, and the vision of leaders who, rather than a future preying on fear and dividing us, will work, as they already are, to build community where we care and support each other.
Taikein Cooper was canvassing throughout Virginia’s communities as an 11-year-old to help elect his D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) teacher, Travis Harris, as Prince Edward County’s Sheriff, beginning the life of service he now lives, in local and regional politics and service initiatives, and as Executive Director of Virginia Excels, an education advocacy organization that focuses on educational equity by amplifying the voices of students and families. He also co-hosts the socio-political podcast, Ain’t No Free Lunch, with Ms. Danielle Greene.
Hazel Edwards is an artist, community advocate and educator, who works as The Educator and Outreach Specialist in The Bryson Institute of The Attic Youth Center in Philadelphia. Among numerous other advocacy projects, Hazel has presented and led workshops in Philadelphia and across the country for hundreds of service providers and youth on gender, sexuality, racism, and antioppression. She also co-facilitated a 9-month high school social justice internship, where she taught 18 interns on systems of oppression and organizing skills. In 2016, Hazel was instrumental in co-authoring the School District of Philadelphia’s Policy 252, which created protections for transgender and gender nonconforming students.
Jason Tsai, a young leader dedicated to working in support of food access, especially in urban food deserts, has worked as an urban agriculture fellow and food distribution coordinator at Tricycle Urban Ag, in Richmond, Virginia. There, he worked on urban farms to grow and distribute organic produce through corner store partners for food desert communities. He specializes in the art of making “good” food that is responsible to the soul and to the earth.
Marni von Wilpert, a young attorney originally from San Diego, served in the Peace Corps in Botswana, Africa from 2006 to 2008, working on treatment, prevention, and care for children and adults living with HIV/AIDS, then went on as one of 28 young legal professionals nationwide to be awarded the Skadden Fellowship for Public Interest law, where she worked with the Mississippi Center for Justice to create the first HIV-related civil rights law practice in the state to provide free legal services to people living with HIV/AIDS facing discrimination in employment, housing, and access to healthcare. Marni also worked as an Associate Labor Counsel for the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., monitoring and evaluating federal and state legislation and regulations affecting workers’ rights, wages and working conditions. Marni moved back home to San Diego in 2017 and now works as a Deputy City Attorney in the Civil Litigation Division of the San Diego City Attorney’s Office. She is a graduate of Emerge California and is running for San Diego City Council in the 2020 election cycle.
Each of these amazing people have stories to tell of their own activist journeys, as well as wisdom, experience, and advice to offer to our summit participants, on how each of us can work toward change, toward, justice, toward peace, in our own communities, in our daily lives.
In addition to the keynotes, we’re inviting submissions of creative work from all over the world, and especially interested in multilingual work, on any topic creatively exploring working toward peace in daily ways.
This year’s summit, with its conversations on the power of individual, community, and grassroots activism, exploring what we as individuals can do in our day to day lives to work toward the peace we all desire and deserve, reminds us: One person can make a difference. Together, we can change the world. We sincerely hope you’ll join us.
Mary Carroll-Hackett is an adviser and member of the Writing for Peace Board of Directors, and the author of The Real Politics of Lipstick, Animal Soul, If We Could Know Our Bones, The Night I Heard Everything, Trailer Park Oracle, and A Little Blood, A Little Rain. Her newest collection of prose poems, Death for Beginners, will be out from Kelsey Books in September 2017. Learn more about Writing for Peace Adviser Mary Carroll-Hackett and her work here.
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