Working with Advocates has absolutely changed my life. They've helped me do the work that I love, they've sent me to conferences, and have hooked me up with incredible people who are constantly working to lift me and each other up.
Patty, Young Women of Color Leadership Council
Because of supporters like you, the 16th Annual Urban Retreat: Youth Activist Institute was a resounding success! We were able to bring 120 young people from 30 states and five countries to the retreat this year. Two groups, the Young Women of Leadership Council and Youth Resource (our LGBTQ activists) even came a day early to work on their advocacy campaigns! Youth speakers included Omarr--the son of conservative Black pastors--who after confronting his own “isms” at last year’s Urban Retreat began a year-long advocacy campaign and successfully won improvements to the sex education policy in his rural Mississippi school district; to Patty who fought back when she was censored by Facebook for sharing sexual health content on her group’s page; to Dalia who at just 16 years old eloquently shared how each and every day she navigates the intersection of her identifies as young, queer and Black.
During the five day retreat, youth attended workshops and plenary sessions to build their skills as activists and leaders, hone their stories of self, create community, and ultimately develop action plans to help them advocate for youth sexual health and rights in the year to come.
Developing your story, that’s really what this whole thing’s about [working with Advocates], because our stories are so important....there’s power in every story, and every story has the power to change laws.
-Justin, Mississippi CAMI
On Monday, the young people donned their best outfits and headed out for Capitol Hill. Staff coordinated 93 meetings and prepared activists to use their own stories and experiences to educate elected officials about the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act (REHYA) and the International Human Rights Defense Act (IHRDA).
We lobby to show politicians and decision makers they cannot use our bodies as bargaining chips.
-Tweet Gran Varones #urbanretreat15
Even before coming to the Urban Retreat, young people prepared for these meetings by collecting signatures in support of REHYA to deliver during lobby day.
The more signatures I collected, I heard tons of stories about horrible experiences in sex ed classes which pushed me to keep collecting. I put the petition on the counter at the coffee shop where I work and while I made smoothies I told people about the cause, I also went door to door in the dorm buildings for hours asking people for their support. Supporting REHYA is, I feel, a pinnacle to our experiences in Advocates for Youth. This petition is the first step to showing legislators that we will not be silent about this issue, we will continue having the conversation until we no longer need to have it!
-Madison Chickos, Ohio CAMI
And decision makers were listening. As a direct result of this year’s lobby day:
- ·Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Congressman David Price (D-NC) signed on as co-sponsors of REHYA bringing the bill to 48 co-sponsors in the House.
- ·After meeting with youth activists, Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL) tweeted at Advocates: “Abstinence-only sex ed doesn't work. I support HR1706 to help teens make responsible choices about their sexual health.”
- ·Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD) sent the following tweet: “Thanks for the useful mtg & happy to cosponsor HR 1706, Real Education for Healthy Youth Act!”
For more on the activists’ encounters on the Hill (and in their classrooms), a reporter from Fusion tagged along and captured their experiences. It’s a great read!
Youth activists also attended a screening of God Loves Uganda and held discussions with global south youth from Jamaica, Kenya, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan. Advocates currently maintains a network of nearly 3,000 youth-serving organizations and activists in the global south, provides technical assistance in 60 countries and works intensively in 10 countries providing onsite training and seed funding given opportunities for progress in their community and/or country on a range of sexual and reproductive health issues including HIV and AIDS. Staff secured meetings for global south attendees with Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alan Lowenthal. These offices introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act in the Senate and House, respectively. Activists also met the senior LGBT coordinator at USAID and Randy Berry, the State Department’s first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI persons.
At the closing dinner Gabriel Maldonado (pictured above at the right), an HIV+ young African American man, Founder and Executive Director of TruEvolution, and one of only two young people on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, lifted and challenged attendees:
Oppression does not get better, homophobia does not get better. What gets better is you. You get stronger, wiser… more cunning. Tap into your truth and your story to continue to fuel your work.
The Urban Retreat has given me an opportunity to interact with like-minded and inspirational youth from all over the world. I loved every moment.
– Imani, International Youth Leadership Council
I went to my first Urban Retreat at 16. It was there I found the courage to come out to my mom. It was there I learned to lift up my voice. I would not be the activist I am today-- I would not be the person I am today—but for my experiences at Urban Retreat.
-Adrian, Youth Resource Activist
This year, as in years past, these amazing youth activists left the Urban Retreat with a sense of community, commitment and purpose. Each will work with their group and a staff person to make meaningful change on their campuses and in their communities. They will impact the lives of those around them and if we have done our jobs right--their own lives will be forever enriched by the experience.
Below are select 2015-2016 youth activists’ action plans by group.
1 in 3 Campaign student activists, on 20 high impact campuses across the country will work towards destigmatizing abortion in their communities by creating spaces where students can share their experiences such as a hosting an abortion speak-out, creating a zine for people to share their experiences, or creating an anonymous tumblr account. Students on each campus will host at least five events dedicated to challenging abortion stigma, including hosting the 1 in 3 play, Out of Silence, in their community. Each of these students has committed to building a network of 500 students on their campus committed to abortion access.
Campus Organizers on nine different campuses across the country will build robust advocacy campaigns aimed at creating, reforming, and shifting school policies to support sexual health and rights as they pertain to comprehensive sex ed, contraceptive accessibility, LGBTQ rights, and STI/HIV prevention and education; thereby, creating lasting and institutional change for youth in their community.
Youth Resource activists will provide technical assistance to community based organizations nationwide seeking to improve the way they serve LGBTQ young people as well as addressing the intersectionality of issues such housing, education and employment for LGBTQ and HIV+ young people. They will also represent the needs and rights of LGBTQ young people around HIV prevention, testing and treatment at national convenings and educate peers in their communities through targeted campaigns to improve campus and community policies and outreach around LGBTQ issues including HIV and AIDS.
The Young Women of Color Leadership Council advocates for the inclusion of young women of color in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of youth sexual and reproductive health programs so other young women of color may become empowered to advocate for sexual and reproductive health rights in their respective communities. This year, council members will develop media pieces on the impact of HIV and young women of color, host events on sexual and reproductive health and in recognition of three National HIV/ AIDS Awareness Days, advocate for a National Youth HIV & Awareness Day proclamation in their city, institutionalize an advisory council comprised of young women of color in their community, and launch the Shades of Rosie Campaign which celebrates the resilience and accomplishments of women of color through story sharing.
The Cultural Advocacy and Mobilization Initiative (CAMI) in five states (Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Ohio) will mobilize at least 3,000 young people in support of progressive issues, host in-state policy maker education efforts and take action to improve sex education at the state and local school district level. CAMI groups may also work on local legislation to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status and in support of abortion access for young people.
The International Youth Leadership Council will work with the producers of the film DIFRET to produce a viewing toolkit for college campuses as the film launches in theaters. (DIFRET, an award winning film from executive producer Angelina Jolie, is based on the inspirational true story of a young Ethiopian girl and a tenacious lawyer embroiled in a life-or-death clash between the cultural tradition of child marriage and their country’s advancement of equal rights.) Additionally, the International Youth Leadership Council will mobilize young people and educate policy makers about the new 2030 sustainable development goals and their potential impact on adolescent girls.