My January article for Buncombe County for the Urban News highlights two youth-led initiatives: Me2We MLK Youth Summit (which was held on Monday) and Word on the Street (which I am happy to feature here again). It can be downloaded as a PDF here, and I’ve posted the text below. This story couldn’t have come at a better time, as we look for positivity and hope. I was incredibly impressed with the young people who shared their insights with me for this piece.

The Next Generation Steps Up

In 2017 we will continue to see visionary young leaders in Buncombe County make significant contributions to our community. Their fresh perspectives can lead to innovative solutions to persistent problems and contribute to new cultural paradigms. Two examples of youth-led initiatives that are tipping the scales towards positive outcomes are the Me2We MLK Youth Summit and Word on the Street online magazine.

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Me2We MLK Youth Summit Planning Meeting

Me2We MLK Youth Summit

The 6th annual Me2We MLK Youth Summit is being organized and facilitated by students from the City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy (CAYLA) with support from a resource grid that includes Buncombe County, CoThinkk, UNC Asheville Center for Diversity Education, and AVID of Asheville High School (AHS)/SILSA. The summit will offer high school students the opportunity to discuss issues facing our community and nation. The day’s agenda will include co-creating an Action Plan with the goal of enacting real social change.

Myra Pearson, a senior at AHS, explains that “the Youth Summit is important so that we can talk about problems within our community and work together on equality.” She also says it is a place to “build young leaders.”

“The Youth Summit not only brings awareness to pressing issues in our generation but also allows a safe space for us young adults to speak our opinions on these topics,” says Itzel Garcia Ruiz, also a senior at AHS. “I hope that everyone who leaves the Youth Summit this year will really reflect on what was discussed and how their actions and voices can be used to implement change in our community.” She is enthusiastic about the possibilities of a “team effort” of students “using their talents to fix issues.”

For more details and to register, email Hannah James at hjames@unca.edu.

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Word on the Street/La Voz de Los Jovenes Planning Meeting

Word on the Street

Last Fall a group of local teens of color, supported by Asheville Writers in the Schools and Community, launched Word on the Street (WOTS). According to their website, WOTS is an “online magazine where diverse, culture-driven youth use their minds and talents to create a place to find solutions to ethnic and community issues while sharing their artistic creations.”

“WOTS is different from any club or group that I have ever had the privilege to be a part of,” says AHS senior Sophia Isis Rutherford. “We value language justice and speak both English and Spanish, something that I’ve never seen done before. We tackle topics that are overlooked and need attention, like racial disparities, systemic oppression, privilege, and language barriers. Through this we try to attain common ground within the community.”

“I feel very special being able to contribute part of my creativity and personal reflections to a group of amazing people of color!” shares AHS senior Quantasia Williams. In addition, she credits her involvement in WOTS as helping her “look at some things from a new perspective!”

Owen High School student Karen Beltran Chavez appreciates that WOTS is “a platform for other teenagers around my age to show what art means to them and to show their talents.”

“The opportunity to share art, whatever that may look like for the individual, from teenagers of color is not common,” Rutherford explains. “I think it is necessary – and if me and my generation don’t make this change, who will?”

Visit wordonthestreetmag.org to find out more.

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Updates Since My Article

By all reports, the Me2We MLK Summit was a great success. Here are links to the press coverage of the summit:

My friend Ashley Cooper, one of the CoThinkk members who served as adult mentors for Me2We, had this to say about the day, “This event on MLK day was powerful because it was designed by young people, for young people. The adults collaborating were in service to helping the students create an agenda that allowed them to have the conversations that they thought were most important….In the closing circle the power of the event was felt as participants shared that they were feeling educated, empowered, inspired, motivated, hopeful, connected, that their voices mattered, and grateful for the opportunity to talk about things that don’t get talked about in regular conversation.”

The Word on the Street fundraiser held in collaboration with High Five Coffee that I mentioned in my last post was also a success. A heart-warming evening of community connection. Here is a photo I took of a few of the WOTS squad members that night:

wots-high-fiveI’ll close with another quote from Ashley, “Asheville’s young people have so much wisdom, insight, and clarity about what our community needs. It was an honor to get to learn from them. Let’s keep listening to them and giving them opportunities to lead themselves and us.”

Yes.