The UU-UNO Youth Conference, “Justice Con” was first executed at First UU in Brooklyn, NY with the help of the Metropolitan New York Youth/Adult Committee (YAC). “Justice Con” was designed to work across districts with flexibility to include district-based schedules and traditions while updating workshops as needed.
The Joseph Priestly District Youth Steering Committee (JPDYSC) hosts 4 Youth Conferences (Cons) a year – Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. JPDYSC routinely works with guest presenters in the Winter, but this year took on something new; JPDYSC partnered with the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office for the annual Social Justice themed WinterCON.
We worked together to set the schedule, structure the workshops, and include JPD CON traditions. We had meetings, we had conference calls – so many conference calls – and next thing we knew, registration was open! Justice Con: JUUstice for All Souls was being advertised in JPD congregations, on our webpages, and – of course – on Facebook. As the date got closer and closer, we had more and more participants register. The participant total reached a new record high at WinterCon, 137 participants!
Opening night, we started off by learning about JPDYSC and the CON Covenant. Participants were introduced to the youth and adult leaders who ensured us we would have a wonderful weekend at the congregation of All Souls DC. We then played a rousing game of UU-UNO Trivia: Are UN or are you out? The Friday night worship was joyous, celebrating the international language of laughter.
The next morning we woke up bright and early for our jam packed day of justice work. We started off in small groups to reflect on our past, current, and future work around social justice. What is social justice? What do I actually do? All participants created their own Social Justice Suuper hero character. We then shifted into a growth activity. The purpose of the activity was to understand the intricacies of privilege and the impact of support systems that were in place before we began making our own life choices. We highlighted factors that re-enforce and widen gaps in resources and access to opportunities. At the conclusion of the activity, participants were invited to reach out to one another in love and to support one another through change and fear (read aloud as a closing was a poem by Sara Moores Campbell entitled: Love Casts Out Fear).
The workshops offered were all youth-led and covered different social justice topics with an international lens: indigenous rights, women’s rights, climate change, race and immigration, and lgbtq rights. We also had workshops that focused on constructing and taking action; how to tackle international human rights issues through Unitarian Universalism. These workshop themes included how to challenge discriminatory policies and laws, multigenerational work in congregations, the UU-UNO Envoy program, and SUUper hero improvisation. We also had a change agent workshop which allowed all participants to learn and practice different facilitation techniques to use when leading multigenerational discussions at their congregations and within their youth groups. Participants were also asked to role play and problem solve with different facilitation styles and characters.
The All Con activity of cape making was a great success. WE HAVE SO MANY SUUPER HEROES. Following cape making we met in small groups from the same congregation and/or from the same area to come up with an social justice event we would bring back to our home congregations. Each group was given a worksheet to fill out to help with the organization of the event; how do you reserve a space? Who do you call? Who will call this person? When will we meet to plan? Copies of each event plan were given to the UU-UNO Envoy Coordinator to follow-up and assist anyone with materials or other needs upon request. During Coffee House (or Cawfee Hause as it is commonly known) we had a cape Fashion Show. Although it was music-less at first, with the help of the audience participation and a volunteer host, the room was quickly filled with excitement and cheers – everyone got to strut for social justice! The second worship service called for participants to look at stereotypes based on age. Worship leaders encouraged one and all to hear these stereotypes and remember that what stereotypes are not full of truth. Wise words of advice and comfort were also shared, inviting us to remember that we are all beautiful, we are loved by one another, and to stay confident as we are all wonderful human beings.
Sunday morning was slow to start as the realization that we would be parting ways began to set in. As the smell of fresh biscuits filled the congregation, participants filled out their evaluations and packed their Purple Cow (JPD photo and contact packet for all participants). Our closing circle was brief with complex and yet message: go out there and save the world by being the change you want to see. The UU-UNO was so thankful to have had the opportunity to work in partnership with JPDYSC. Justice Con: JUUstice for All Souls was a great success and the UU-UNO can’t wait to partner with another youth group or District Leadership team in the very near future.
If your youth group or district is looking to host a UU-UNO youth conference please contact:
Envoy Outreach Coordinator, Kamila Jacob at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Photo credit to Wendi Winters, Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis