This past weekend the LGBT Center of Raleigh in conjunction with many other youth serving organizations across North Carolina came together and held our annual ASPYRE Youth Camp. ASPYRE stands for a ‘A Safer Place for Youth to Reach Excellence”… and reach excellence we did!
Tucked away at a quiet YMCA Camp in Greensboro, our team of youth, youth counselors, and adult administrators engaged in a three day empowerment camp: with the explicit goal of bettering the lives of LGBTQ Youth across North Carolina. Our group from OUTright Youth of Catawba Valley was especially eager to learn how to form and maintain GSA’s in their school systems!
Coming from a Youth Development background, I took more pride in the fact that these brilliant young minds gravitated towards the character building exercises and networking than the bland policy and law conversations (that admittedly, I wrote. You could see the wave of drowsy faces give up the fourth time I used the term “incrementalism”).
But for me, that was the one thing that I took from this camp:
As much as we’ve progressed in the past decade (or four), my kids still do not have the types of social and emotional outlets that other youth utilize.
Now, for me… this was not a huge shock to my system. I know the risk factors, the data… hell, I went through it myself as a kid. But there was something different about being in a room full of future leaders and thinking, “how am I going to make sure each one of my kids has an opportunity to succeed?” Let it be known that this was also my first foray into pseudo-parenthood since we all became so close… and the fact that they labeled Nick and myself the “crazy Uncles”.
So that got me thinking. What IS empowerment? What are we REALLY doing to engage our youth? Luckily, we had many guest speakers… including Equality North Carolina’s Jen Jones, Ben Church, and Chris Speer. They took the conversation from poignant to empowering; reminding each and every one of our kids that policy is only temporary as long as there are young, dedicated voices who will carry the fight on. The youth squealed with delight when they were asked to discuss the presentation in their small groups – they shared their own experiences, not only in their schools and homes, but through the activities they are already doing! Two of our youth were phone bankers for Amendment 1! One powerful young lady is organizing the “Day of Silence” for their entire school and is working with two local Charlotte organizations!
And that’s when it came to me: empowerment, in this context – through this camp, was no more than networking. My kids (yes, I’ve now claimed them) were energizing themselves off of EACH OTHER. Traditional definitions of ‘empowerment’ include “having and using knowledge” and other resources… and of course they were being armed with the most up to date knowledge available.
But do I think for one minute that those resources were the #1 reason for attendance? No.
These amazing youth seized an amazing opportunity to meet and converse with peers from all over the state… and in many cases, shared personal experiences in knowledge through a lens not available to us ‘old’ people. I saw growth. I saw change. I saw the future… and I’m excited to see what they will accomplish!!!
Also, I am genuinely humbled by the love and compassion of all of our Camp donors and volunteers who made this possible – namely: Alan King and Ben Buie, Nick Buchser, Nancy Brady, MaryAnn Dore, Whitney Kelbaugh, Todd Forman, Greg Hunt and Don Laonipon, Jeff and Kathy Marsocci, Ed Smith, Steve Nelson, and David Oh. Without you all, this camp would have not been possible. Thank you.
SO- let’s all get ready for ASPYRE 2014! I know I can’t wait.
published on 3/12/2013 • written by James Miller