The 6th annual Me2We MLK Youth Summit convened at the YMI Cultural Center in downtown Asheville on Monday, Jan. 16, offering local high school students an opportunity to connect with one another, discuss issues facing their community and nation and formulate solutions.
The students designed and facilitated the event themselves. Following opening remarks, students got busy with roundtable discussions over lunch. Each table was assigned a topic, chosen by the students in advance, for deeper reflection and collective discussion.
After lunch, student leaders facilitated a question-and-response activity to create trust and connection between the students by highlighting common experiences. Students considered: Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your race? Have you ever had trouble paying the light or water bill? Have you ever felt threatened by the police? Participants gathered in an open circle and those that answered yes to the questions would step forward into the circle.
The agenda for the summit included building relationships between diverse members of the community; discussing social issues that affect the mental, physical and emotional well-being of young people; and creating action plans to catalyze productive social change within the community. After the icebreaker activity, participants returned to their tables and engaged in forum-style discussions on issues such as dealing with stress, safe sex, affordable housing, police brutality, racial disparity and how to be a leader.
After 20 minutes, the groups dispersed and new groups reassembled at different tables to engage in new conversations with fresh perspectives on entrenched problems in the community. Twenty minutes later, the groups changed again, and a new permutation of young leaders assembled at each table to try to wrap their heads around the challenges surrounding them.
At the end of the last round of discussion, students were asked to share highlights from the conversations they participated in, decide which topic or topics they felt most drawn to address, and craft a plan of action — using time, talent and treasure— to be the change they want to see in their communities.
“All three are vital,” says event organizer Tracey Greene-Washington, “to support social change philanthropy, and create the necessary traction and momentum to address these complex issues.” She believes this summit empowers young people because it gives them “an additional platform to exercise their leadership,” allows them to identify the priority issues most important to their generation, and inspires them to come up with bold solutions to solve them. Through collaborative opportunities like the summit, they are becoming the leaders they need, and the change they want to see in the world.
This year, Me2We partnered with the City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy (CAYLA), the MLK Association of Asheville and Buncombe County, the UNC Asheville Center for Diversity Education, AVID of Asheville High School/SILSA and, for the first time, CoThinkk.
CoThinkk was founded by Greene-Washington and, according to its website, is a “giving circle that brings together community leaders who care about the economic and social well-being of communities of color in Asheville and Western North Carolina.” CAYLA, an initiative started by former Asheville mayor Terry Bellamy, is committed to providing relevant summer work opportunities, facilitating leadership development and supporting the needs of college-bound graduating seniors. Erika Germer, CAYLA’s founding director, said she was excited to be collaborating with CoThinkk this year, and hopes it will lead to “positive impact in the community via time, talent and treasure,” a catchphrase used to describe the components of stewardship.