Over the December 9th weekend, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) organized and facilitated our first Youth Conference (referred to affectionately as a Youth Con). It was hosted by the First Unitarian Universalist Congregational Society in Brooklyn, New York. On Friday, we kicked the weekend off with a UU-UNO trivia game and presentation to teach youth about the United Nations and the UU-UNO. We asked “How long has the Envoy Program been in existence?” “In what year was the UN established?” “When was the UU-UNO founded?” “What is the theme for this year’s Spring Seminar?” With Youth Envoy pins as prizes for correct answers, the youth’s hands were shooting up like rockets. The Friday night worship service was led by the Brooklyn congregation youth group, inviting us to be present in our Social Justice work.
We began Saturday with a growth exercise – a Privilege Walk. In this exercise, the facilitator, me, asked a series of questions and for each question that applies, participants are asked to either take a step forward or take a step backwards. “If your primary national identity is American – take one step forward.” “If your ancestors were forced to come to the USA – not by choice – take one step back.” “If you studied the culture of your ancestors in elementary school – take one step forward.” The exercise can be very powerful in identifying the structures that are in place before we began making our own choices in life. These are factors that influence our everyday lives, yet many people are oblivious to these institutional and structural constructs that create the illusion of what is “normal”. These are social, political, economic and environmental circumstances we are born into that both re-enforce and widen gaps in resources and access to opportunities.
Next on the schedule were the Youth lead workshops. Each workshop connected to the program initiatives of UU-UNO [link]. For example, the Spring Seminar workshop was led by youth envoy, Elise Thompson, and focused on this upcoming years’ topic: Beyond Borders: Braking Barriers of Race and Immigration. The discussion was around anti-racism/anti-oppression, past and present immigration laws in the U.S. and the intersection of race and immigration. Assisting with this workshop was a Metro District advisor and a UU-UNO intern, Hao Wang. The four other workshops included: Weaving Women’s Empowerment, So You Wanna Be An Envoy, Think Globally Act Locally, and Cookies And Conversing.
During the afternoon, the youth had a facilitator training workshop lead by advisor, Beth Dana. Youth worked on education from a global lens – facilitating conflicts, group discussion techniques, outreach, program planning, and more. For the All Con activity (where All at the Con participate in one activity), each youth created their own Social Justice Suuper Hero (Justice League, Social Justice League….get it?) and used the t-shirt to create and design their own cape!
The youth had small groups called Touch Groups (to “touch”-base and check-in) as well as regionally affiliated small groups called Cluster groups. In each cluster group youth and advisors were asked to create an event to follow-up their experience at the Con. Each group developed ideas for activities and fundraisers to be accomplished in the near future – a coffeehouse, a bakesale, a Glow Party to raise funds and awareness for LGBT human rights. One group worked together to help a new Youth Envoy plan UN Sunday! The Saturday night worship was beautiful and moving; it called participants to share and follow their dreams both for themselves and for the world. To close the evening, we had a Coffee house where youth were able to reflect on the weekend’s events and shared their many talents.
Throughout the weekend youth and advisors shared personal experiences and explored social justice in worship services and discussions. By Sunday morning we were all exhausted from bonding and growing. We had worked together to create a community that thrived on justice and we were ready to go forth to share the knowledge we had gained and to be the change we want to see. As the current Youth Envoy Coordinator [link], I am so glad to have had the opportunity to assist in accomplishing one of our Youth Envoy Project goals. However, we have only just begun! We hope to have UU-UNO facilitated Youth Con’s in many more districts and regions.