YLSN update 08/08/08

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Tracey Amos performs and Keith Secola is joined by Three Generations, both backed by local musicians and sound krewe at the Longest Walk 2 Pow Wow and Concert on the Mall, culminating the Longest Walk 2 for Indigenous Rights from Alcatraz to Washington, DC. (July 08)

Kristen Arent, founder of Young Women's Drumming Empowerment Project, directs workshop at the annual Great Labor Arts Exchange and Conference on Creative Organizing, YLSN intern Kendra Penry and 91 year-old mentor Julius Margolin, Steve Jones plays for Graciela Lopez dance (June 08) ( more pics & multi-media from the GLAE here)

Alexandria Youth Council leadership participate in YLSN workshop with Krista, Darul and Doug addressing community organizing, creative visibility, shaping message tothe mission and more.(August 08)



It's about participation. Here in DC and the metro region, we're busy at what we do. For YLSN, that's arts-activism and supporting local leadership in our neighborhoods, schools and in context of living in Washington, DC. A lot of people come through town with the most interesting stories and opportunities to participate. Like most local organizations in DC, we routinely work with folks from around the nation and world. We welcome the exchange as it enriches our experience and knowledge.

The summer began with Kendra Penry joining us as an intern, two Paul Robeson one-man shows, the Great Labor Arts Exchange and much dialogue with partner groups about what is needed, possible and



The following is provided by Kendra Penry, who interned with YLSN from late May through early July.

In April of 2008, I decided to sit in on a meeting I had arranged for a group of international visitors with the director of a local youth organization. Little did I know what would become of that experience just a few short weeks later.

When I moved to Washington, DC in 2006, my purpose was to attend graduate school and find some sort of a job to support myself in the process. I was hired to a position with a non-profit that partners with the State Department to administer one of their international visitor programs. The program was entry-level but paid very well. I was able to pay my bills but found myself having great difficulty getting out of bed in the morning as I had no passion for my job. I met a great deal of new people and learned a lot, but hated sitting behind a computer everyday to do a job that contributed very little to the world and did nothing to change people’s lives for the better. I had virtually decided I just had to deal with it as I needed to finish school. But when in April of 2008, I arranged a meeting for a group of visitors with Doug Calvin from the Youth Leadership Support Network, I knew I needed to stop settling for a job that just paid the bills and instead find a way to serve the community with my time and talent. That is why I left my job in May and decided to intern with YLSN.

My time with YLSN got off to a slow start as I joined the organization at the beginning of their summer programming, a time when fundraising is of the essence. I spent the first three weeks searching for sponsors, corporate and personal, as well as financial and physical. I was also tasked with contacting and updating contacts for the DC Youth Media Project. These two tasks proved very difficult and while I was not as successful at these as I was at my previous job, I was at least much happier as I knew the work I was doing was supporting a very worthy cause – the youth of DC. In seeking sponsors, I contacted dozens of individuals and corporations with little response. Contacting local organizations about their media relations was also somewhat difficult as few replied, each being equally busy with their own summer programming. I was privileged, though, to actually meet with representatives from various different non-profits who were not only passionate but dedicated to serving the DC community. I was greatly inspired by these individuals, such as Parisa from Empower DC and Kate and Harold who spoke to me about their inspiration from liberation theology to live in community with other like-minded individuals fighting for social justice locally and internationally. Though I had not actually worked with the youth yet, the promise was there that my work would support them in future activities. And while I was not able to do much more for YLSN than write letters, make phone calls, and attend outreach events, I was very excited to be connected to such a dedicated community. After speaking with Parisa, I joined Empower DC in their public property campaign by writing letters to the DC city council, and attended information meetings with the Young Women’s Drumming Empowerment Project as they sought to involve new youth. YLSN definitely proved to be the network it promised to be by cluing me into such a wonderful community of activists and caring individuals.

After the first few weeks of working with my computer, I got out into the community when we settled on a location and began advertising for our first event/fundraiser, Stogie Kenyatta’s one-man show to take place the weekend of June 21st. I attended an awards ceremony with DC Jobs for Justice at the AFL-CIO to meet and invite more people, contacted local bloggers to advertise, and handed out fliers at every chance I could. Sadly, many DC residents are not as committed to helping their fellow man as I would hope, but there was some support from local bloggers who were willing to advertise and promote the organization and the play. When the day of the show arrived, I was thrilled to meet Stogie Kenyatta and hear his inspiring play about the life and times of such a dedicated individual as Paul Robeson. The Young Women’s Drumming Empowerment Project also performed, my first time hearing a performance by these amazing young women.  Sadly, I had not been very knowledgeable about Paul Robeson, the athlete, singer, actor, and incredible civil rights leader before my time with YLSN, so the play was entertaining and educational. I know any time I need inspiration in the future, I can turn to the life of Paul Robeson to find the dedication I need to continue in the work to serve my fellow human beings. Regrettably, the turn out to the play was not what we hoped and expected, but it did not stop the work of YLSN.

Following the play, I was delighted to participate in the three-day Great Labor Arts Exchange in Maryland. Not knowing what to expect, I was not prepared to participate in the arts showcases, but I was thrilled to meet and hear so many incredible artists speak for social justice and human rights through music and poetry. Equally, I was inspired by the presence of young individuals as well who while similar to me in that they also did not know quite what to expect from the weekend, their very presence was encouraging in that they were there as witnesses and at least the seeds of social justice could be planted in future generations. In addition, I was able to learn from the struggles, successes and failures of so many people working for the rights of American workers, such as a union organizer working for teachers’ rights in Minnesota and young people struggling for the rights of migrant farm laborers throughout the U.S. These may not be my life’s work specifically, but in essence, are we not all working for the same thing: human dignity and respect for every human being? Through small-group discussion and workshop sessions, I was thrilled to gain a few tidbits of knowledge about starting or maintaining a movement despite setbacks.

One of the sessions, on creating intergenerational spaces, involved the youth as well as the oldest participant, Julius Margolin, currently a 91-year-old activist still vocal about his work and the rights everyone deserves. The time was spent just sharing experiences, offering each individual an opportunity to speak and be heard by others. We did not come away with any tangible results, but we could call each other friends and be encouraged by the knowledge that other individuals would support us in our struggles.

My favorite experience of the weekend was hearing from four unionists from Liberia who have worked for years to gain rights for workers on Firestone rubber farms in this small African nation. In the U.S., the struggle has been going on for so long that many feel the important work is already completed. Unions are commonplace and taken for granted. These individuals brought a breath of fresh air from a country just beginning the struggle. If they can accomplish so much in a land that has been taken advantage of for centuries, then of course we can keep fighting for the rights of American workers as well. They also brought the offer of trans-Atlantic unity in the international fight for workers’ rights. Hearing about their experience was motivational and very exciting for someone such as myself with strong interests in international affairs.  From speakers such as these to icebreakers and motivational songs, I learned more in just two and half days from these hardworking men and women than in many semesters of classroom work.

Some of the most inspiring individuals I met that weekend were from the United Steel Workers union. The participants from USW extended an invitation for all at the Exchange to participate in a protest and rally on July 9th. The protest centered on the import summit meeting taking place in DC to urge the Bush administration to raise the level of lead allowable in children’s toys. The USW had taken on this “toxic trade” campaign through a street puppet and rally effort across the US. While I could not be at another of their efforts, this one was wonderful. We stood together with representatives across the board: environmentalists, unionists, government watchdog groups, young and old, male and female, and across the race spectrum to voice the desire for fair trade, safe toys, and worker justice. Our numbers were small in comparison to the amount of money represented by the men in the boardroom of the hotel, but we marched and chanted in unison to make sure that corporate and government leaders know people are watching. The protest called no only for safer toys, but worker rights, environmental justice, and fair trade to protect our international counterparts. We may not know if our efforts had any effect, at least not for a long time, but we were there to serve as the eyes and ears for all those who do not have a chance to speak for themselves. I was privileged to be a part of the fight even if for only an hour.

My summer may not have been as active as I had hoped. I had less interaction with DC youth than I expected, but I was still happy to have done what I could. As it turns out, the Youth Leadership Support Network did exactly what it promises: it served as a network that connected me with people, organizations, and causes that will continue to inspire me in whatever I choose to do in the coming weeks, months, and years.