So every year, Global Kid’s brings together 500-600 young people from all around the New York area to its Annual Conference. Perhaps it’s more correct to say that every year, teenagers from Global Kids programs invite us to their conference. Because the kids really run the whole show: from deciding on the theme for the conference, to putting together the program, MCing the plenaries, facilitating the discussions in the workshop sessions, and performing during the entertainment portions of the all-day event.
The multi-act, 15-minute performance by the group "Undesirable Elements"
that opened the conference is a great example our youth-driven
process. The group of twenty-some teenagers played drums, danced,
sang, and performed their own poetry in several languages on a range of
social issues (as you can see above). Yesterday’s performance profiled
various leaders from past centuries from Victor Hugo to Queen Elizabeth
I to Rigoberta Menchu and Nelson Mandela (powerfully portrayed by one
young actor.) I was so moved by the way that this young dancer owned the stage during this act of the production that I almost forgot to film. Amazing.
I was sitting near some visitors from a museum in Chicago, one of
whom remarked to the other, "I wish every conference I went to had
drumming in it!"
This year’s theme, of course, was "Politics." Many of the
workshops dealt with current issues being debated in the upcoming
Presidential elections, from immigration to the war in Iraq to health
care. Kids in the workshop that I attended were particularly seized on
the issue of human trafficking, which they didn’t feel that the US
government was doing enough to stop, and immigration, which many felt
was a very one-sided debate that ignored the enormous contributions
that immigrants have brought to this country. It was great seeing teens engage with each other on political issues that they cared about in a respectful way.
Some other highlights of the conference for me was the totally
inspiring message delivered by my colleague Eddie Mandry as the opening plenary keynote
speaker and my friends Tommy "Hypno" Chan and Evita and Nathan performing hip-hop and lindy hop during the entertainment breaks.
The larger aim of the conference is not just to stimulate the minds and
entertain the teen participants, but to inspire them to civic action as
Inside of every conference packet was a voter
registration form. As our executive director Carole Artigiani exhorted
students at the plenary, "Fill it out. And if you are too young to
vote, get it to someone in your family, in your neighborhood, in your
community to fill it out." Which is just one small way that each
person there can make a difference.