Summer Youth Leadership Intensive 2015 (Spring 2016)

February 17, 2016
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Presented by the Process Work Institute and Teens Rise Up

“This week was the best memory of my life.”

There was hardly a dry eye at the Process Work Institute in Portland, Oregon when Kumae expressed her gratitude and love for us all at the first Summer Youth Leadership Intensive. Kumae, a 16 year-old, indigenous, Burmese youth came to the U.S. as a refugee after surviving horrendous circumstances.  Along with twenty other youth from 8 countries and various walks of life, she came to our intensive to learn about leadership, diversity and community.

Our program is based in a processwork approach and includes music, visual arts, video, theater and movement to help youth discover their powers and bring out their leadership. Over half the participants were awarded full scholarships and local businesses supported the event by providing free lunches and snacks, in addition to the food for our BBQ celebration where family, friends and community members could witness and celebrate our youth.

At a time of global refugee crisis, it is important to bridge the divide and forge real relationships. We were able to offer five spots to the local refugee community to five young women from Nepal and Burma. On the second day, these courageous young women broke open our hearts when they shared their experiences of extreme hardship and struggle. Although they had attended American high schools they had trouble bridging the gap with their classmates. They mostly kept to themselves and were silent. This was the first time that they had shared their stories to others outside of their families and refugee counselors. The other participants listened intensely. The longing for home was palpable. The tears and intimate sharing of stories that had almost never been told brought the group into a tight circle. “Home” was suddenly present. Welcomes, hugs, deeper understanding and admiration followed. Relationship and global community were created.

The group created a mural that reflected some of the important issues we addressed during the week: race, gender, sexual orientation, violence towards women, and believe it or not: Donald Trump!  A few of the youth hailed from Mexico and were furious about Mr. Trump’s recent comments about Mexicans. There was spirited discussion and at our final presentation a small group performed a hilarious skit called, “Trumpaholics Anonymous.”

This group of young people supported and learned from the diversity of our group that included people of many races and ethnic backgrounds, different gender experiences, sexual orientations, financial resources, and different communication styles. A young white man with unusual movements and expression, who deals on-goingly with social isolation at his high school, stood out as insightful and was a fabulous actor. He then declared that he had no stage fright, but instead suffered “small chat fright.” He hit a note for many of us!

During a discussion about race, a couple of white youth spoke about how terrible they felt about racism and how in a way they felt they didn’t deserve to live.

Immediately, a young black woman responded, “I need you here. You are an ally to me. Don’t you think of going anywhere!” At the same time a white male youth was able to speak about the complexities and pain of carrying the social role of being male and white in addition to having a personal life experience that is different than that role.

We became a community; after 5 days, the teens marveled at their capacity to forge new intimate friendships that crossed social divides. They hooted and hollered watching a video of our week together and embraced and cried when we said goodbye. They learned about new inner powers and leadership skills and felt more equipped to deal with diversity challenges, conflict and bullying issues.

The next Summer Youth Leadership Intensive will be July 18-22, 2016 at the Process Work Institute in Portland, Oregon. Here is a link to a short video from last Summer:

Dawn Menken, Ph.D., is conflict resolution educator, counselor, facilitator, and author. She is a senior faculty member at the Process Work Institute in Portland, Oregon and was co-creator of its masters programs, serving as academic dean of the conflict facilitation program for ten years. She is the author of Raising Parents Raising Kids: Hands-on Wisdom for the Next Generation, which was recently selected as a Finalist in the 2014 USA and International Best Book Awards. She is the creator of Teens Rise Up (TRU), a cutting edge program that empowers and educates young people to step into their leadership, engage in honest dialogue and co-create a more welcoming school community. Dawn enjoys working with youth and holds Summer Leadership workshops for teens.

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