“Tell it like it is, make it what it can be” – Waynflete hosts sixth annual New England Youth Identity Summit

There was much to be hopeful for as students arrived on campus on a sunny Saturday morning in April. The 2022 New England Youth Identity Summit, presented by Waynflete, Third Thought Initiatives for Civic Engagement, valo, and Seeds of Peace (with financial support from Educate Maine) was back on campus and in-person. This was the sixth Summit, but it had been three years since students had come together for a day of student-led workshops, speakers, dialogue, and celebratory performances. High school seniors might have remembered attending as ninth graders back in 2019, but would current ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders have the curiosity and courage to take part? Would teachers and educators still value the Summit experience and encourage their students to attend?

Nearly 200 students and educators arrived that morning from over twenty schools and six states. Students came on their own and with classmates, friends, and supporting adults. Teachers rented buses and vans to drive from Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Some students walked through the doors with confidence while others appeared more hesitant. Franklin Theater filled with a buzz of energy and jitters. Eleventh grader Tori Bolduc-Jackson, a member of  the Summit host team, opened from the stage with a welcome: “What is important to us? What do we prioritize? What can we hope for in the future?”

Tell it like it is, make it what it can be, was students’ guiding theme for the day, their hope being to recognize neighbors as individuals, uncover shared histories, and shape communities. Students led workshops with titles such as “Rethinking Monuments,” “How You Can Grocery Shop for the Environment,” “Stereotype Threat,” “Navigating Success and Mental Health,” “A Beginner’s Guide to Feminism,” and more. In small workshop spaces and large presentations, in hallways between sessions and outside at lunchtime, students made space for one another to share, connect, to create, and grow.

South Portland Mayor Deqa Dhalac, the first Somali-American mayor in the United States, embodied the spirit of the Summit with her warmth and encouragement during her keynote address. “What I’m missing is within you,” she told the audience, coaxing everyone towards deeper engagement and a global perspective.

While students from valo have always participated in the Summit, this year the organization joined as a Summit partner, contributing not just financial support but countless hours of preparation, collaboration, energy, and creativity.  Valo students teamed up with Waynflete students to be the leading voices of the day, while adults from valo stepped into support roles, creating space for student connection and empowerment. Through their partnership, valo helped make the Summit what it can be.

Back in Franklin Theater after a full day, South Sudanese dance artist Veeva Banga brought everyone in the audience to their feet for an Afro-beats dance-along. Students representing Seeds of Peace performed a spoken word poem, “What is the American Dream?” In the final lines of the poem they asked:

What is the American Dream, the American song, the American?
Passion channeled into dialogue brings change, so let’s talk.
What makes an American?

Eleventh-grade host team member Annie Reynolds invited everyone to share their reflections on the day, beginning with the prompts, “Today I heard, today I felt, today I wonder, Now I want to…” Her teammate, Bessy Dushime ’23, took the mic into the audience to capture everyone’s thoughts, with the audience clapping and cheering in support:

“Today I felt not only empowered but powerful.”
“Today I felt support and inspiration.”
“Now I want to bring what I learned back to my school community.”
“Today I felt seen for the first time in a while.”
“Now I want to come back again next year.”

Planning is already underway for the seventh New England Youth Identity Summit on Saturday, April 1, 2023, with support from a gift in honor of Anne and Dick Jackson. We look forward to seeing new and familiar faces and to hearing everyone tell it like it is.

Interested in next year’s Summit? Join our email list!

Read attendee reflections from the 2022 Summit.

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