Be Seen, Be Heard: New Connections in Virginia’s Virtual Spring Programs

By Hannah Casey, VA Middle School Program Coordinator

Photos Courtesy of Hannah Casey

AALEAD Virginia’s Spring Programs kicked off in late January bringing energy, excitement, and good vibes. After a joint high school and middle school Kick-Off session featuring team building and online games, middle school youth were able to enjoy an exclusive middle-school-only virtual space for Youth Engagement and Leadership (YELP!) workshops offered twice a week. 

Due to the start of the new semester, we had a few new faces – or rather black video boxes – joining us for our first workshop of 2021. ‘“Hey’s and “Welcome”s abounded in the chat, but it was clear that a little icebreaker was needed for everyone to feel more comfortable to make the plunge and click the ‘video on’ button. 

We started our program with a game of Cameras On/Off, a game in which you must turn on your camera if a presented statement is true for you. 

The questions started simple: Turn your camera on if you play a sport, turn your camera on if you like to create art, turn your camera on if you like Kpop. Connections were made (“I play basketball too!”), debates ensued (“Does doodling count as art?”), and lessons were learned (if we bring up Kpop, we should prepare for 10 minutes of tangential discussion). 

Then came statement seven: Turn your camera on if you can speak more than one language. The tessellation of black tiles flickered to life as camera after camera turned on. After a few moments, each tile had transformed to reveal the face of each person present in the meeting. We went around, sharing the languages we speak. Youth unmuted to give snippets of Urdu, Vietnamese, Chinese, Persian, Farsi, and more–– it was an exciting moment as we were reminded of our community’s extraordinary make-up.

In Middle School YELP that day, as the youth chattered excitedly and marveled at each other’s first, second, even third languages, there was a feeling of freedom to share and honor one’s authentic self: a feeling that comes from connecting through shared experience.  

They turned their cameras off, and I gave the last statement: Turn your camera on if you wish to be part of a community where you feel loved and accepted. 

Their faces reappeared.

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