Youth Leadership Conference for Social Justice

Pictured are students from Asheville High School’s AVID program, along with past and present members of the Me2We program. The success of this program has led many of the students to continue on to higher education at colleges and universities.   Photo: Urban News

Pictured are students from Asheville High School’s AVID program, along with past and present members of the Me2We program. The success of this program has led many of the students to continue on to higher education at colleges and universities. Photo: Urban News

This year’s theme is “Rep My City”

The Civil Rights Movement is one of the defining events in American history, providing a bracing example of Americans fighting for the ideals of justice and equality.

When students learn about the movement, they learn what it means to be an active American citizen. They learn how to recognize injustice. They learn about the role of individuals, as well as the importance of organization. And they see that people can come together to stand against oppression.

As the movement recedes from recent memory into history, it is more important than ever to demonstrate how injustice can be overcome. Racism and inequalities are still very much alive in present day society.

In Asheville, the Civil Rights Movement was led by a group of high school students, known as ASCORE (Asheville Student Commission on Racial Equality). From 1960-65, more than 80 ASCORE members systematically and peacefully desegregated Asheville’s lunch counters, libraries, pools, parks, and other places. Many local leaders today were a part of ASCORE including Marvin Chambers, Annette Coleman, Clifford Cotton, Jesse Ray, Jr., Oralene Simmons, Viola Spells, and Al Whitesides.

These individuals are now partnering with the Center for Diversity Education (CDE), AVID, City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy (CAYLA), I Have a Dream Foundation, and MANOS, for the third annual Me2We Youth Leadership Conference for Social Justice at the YMI Cultural Center June 19-20, 2014.

This year’s theme is “Rep My City,” in which students will explore social justice in Asheville through the spoken word, writing, painting, fashion, and other media. Following a structure of “past, present, future,” the conference relies heavily on intergenerational instruction, experiential learning, and peer mentoring. Participants will grasp why the Civil Rights Movement still matters and learn to relate its relevance to challenges faced in their own lives.

At a recent fundraising luncheon at UNC Asheville, Abel Lomeli-Garcia said, “I always knew that my parents had brought us to America for opportunity. My grandparents had an elementary school education. But growing up, it was hard for me to see why my own education was important to them.

“At Me2We, I heard Norma Brown talking about being a college student in Argentina during the Civil Rights Movement where the educational opportunities were limited. Hearing her talk about her experiences, I realized why it mattered so much to my parents. Now I am proud to be a rising sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill.”

Michael Davis, a rising senior at Asheville High School, said, “I wear my Me2We t-shirt all year long and it reminds me of all that we learned about leadership at the conference. People are always coming up to me and asking me where I got the shirt and I tell them about Me2We and then they want to come to the conference, too. We need to make the conference bigger and open to more students.”

The annual Me2We conference has become one of the most-anticipated events of the summer. The conference is entirely youth-led, with students planning everything from the original logo design and the conference agenda, to the keynote speakers, menu, and activities.

“What an inspiration it is to see CAYLA alumni, now in college, coming back to lead the workshops that they themselves learned from two years ago,” said Erika Germer, Director of the City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy. “MeToWe captures the experience of learning: Students will progress from individual leadership development to releasing that potential within our collective community.”

Visit www.facebook.com/me2weasheville

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