By Francine Gorres & Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff and Students
Over the past two years, AALEAD youth have been hosting the Annual APA Youth Summit to empower their peers to learn more about culture, identity, advocacy, and leadership. Each year, the Student Planning Committee works very hard to think of relevant, interesting, and engaging topics for their peers. One thing our youth really wanted was something…DIFFERENT, something that moved the bar a little bit in regards to their personal growth and understanding of diverse peoples, particularly around the topic of stereotypes, racism, and cross-cultural collaboration.
This work is never easy, and can often be challenging..but our students were ready to open the doors for these tough conversations!
As students began to take their seats and finish breakfast, AALEAD staff and students welcomed all students from different schools, backgrounds and ethnicities to the 3rd Annual APA Youth Summit.
Surjeet Ahluwalia gave the opening keynote speech to our youth and congratulated our youth on choosing such a relevant and important topic for the day! She shared parts of her own bi-racial identity with youth and how important it is for everyone to understand that we are all different and unique, yet similar in our experiences. She encouraged the youth to step out of their comfort zones and to get to know youth they didn’t already know.
Shortly after Surjeet’s speech, students from AALEAD took the lead in splitting up 60+ students for icebreakers and team-building. As students began to introduce themselves and participate in team-building activities, bursts of cheers, laughter, and clapping began to echo through the DC streets and into the empty halls. Could it be? It’s only 10:30am! There was incredible energy being shared among all of the youth and students had not even attended one workshop yet! Amazing.
As students came in for their first workshop, students broke out in their groups and attended a workshop around cross-cultural collaboration. One workshop focused on the cross-cultural work of Yuri Kochiyama and how her leadership impacted many different communities. The other two workshops focused on personal identity and the impact of stereotypes. Students started to have fruitful discussions about cultural identity and had great pride about who they were individually. As we got deeper and deeper into tougher conversations about stereotypes, students began to realize that there’s a lot they have in common when it comes to feeling misunderstood and misrepresented. Here are a few sentences from an activity that tried to dispel stereotypes about their individual identities:
“I am a woman, but that doesn’t mean I am weak.”
“I am quiet, but that does not mean that I don’t have a voice.”
“I am Asian, but that does not mean I’m Chinese.”
“I am Black, but that does not mean I can’t swim.”
“I am a male cheerleader, but that does not mean I am gay.”
“I am Black, but that does not mean that I am ghetto.”
“I am Asian, but that does not mean that I am a genius.”
Each student, contributed something to the discussion that made everyone think about how they interact with one another, and brought each of them a little closer. A student even said, “We go around thinking about how different we are…but we don’t even stop to realize how similar our lives can be.” Throughout the day students continued to build on their relationships, but also had the opportunity to reflect on themselves as leaders by attending workshops around goal setting, leadership behaviors, as well as a mock trial!
Students then had the chance to explore their voice in a different way, through performing arts workshops.
Some students had the opportunity to incorporate the arts and their individual histories into one by participating in a workshop on poetry and fluidity; they read poems and expressed them physically, then had some time to write their own pieces and share them with the group. Others explored their self-confidence and love for music through a dance workshop, a DJ sampling workshop, as well an audio production workshop! To say the least…..these youth are talented!
To close the day, Simone Jacobson, shared her story with the youth and expressed how important it is to share your individual voice, especially if it is not being heard. She also encouraged youth to explore their own identities and values in order to find out what it is they want to do. You are your own compass that points north. These words resonated with all of the youth and helped students to realize their own individual agency in this world.
No words can really describe the energy throughout the day, nor the kind of connection students created amongst themselves and guest speakers. It was truly a special day and some students even expressed that this was the BEST Youth Summit to date because it was different, fun, relevant, and engaging. AALEAD students are raising the bar every year and stepped up to the challenge to make this space safe for everyone to participate. The work is not over…there is still much that needs to be done in regards to cross-cultural work…but for their first swing at it, I’d say it was a home run! Congratulations to all of the youth that participated in the AALEAD APA Youth Summit!
Special thank you to:
Chipotle – Thank you for your kind generosity and for donating food for our youth!
Jude Dizon and Neha Singhal (UMD), Jessica Lee, Elizabeth Lee (OCA), Tip Fallon, Ryan Chan & Enoch Chang (APALRC), Stan Robinson, DJ AAROCK, Desmond (Kaution Dance Kru), and Simone Jacobson….without you this would not have been possible. Thank you for being an inspiration to our youth and for sharing your words of wisdom, love and time with us!
AALEAD Staff - Thank you to all of the staff who helped to support youth and helped to make this Youth Summit possible. The future of our youth is boundless and whenever we set the bar..it always seems they go above and beyond. Truly an inspiration to see all of you at work!