In celebration of Youth Awareness Month and in tribute to longtime youth activist Renae Ogletree, the Center on Halsted teamed with the Chicago Freedom School, Gender JUST and Broadway Youth Center for a dynamic April 15 panel discussion of how queer youth can change their communities and the world.
The queer youth panel discussion was a part of a month-long series of activities, discussions and other events for Youth Awareness Month. Friday, April 22, 6-9 p.m., at the Center there will be an "Eye of Our World: Youth Artists Showcase", and on April 29, 6-9 p.m., the Center presents "April Showers: Youth Awareness Awards."
Gender JUST's Sage Morgan-Hubbard moderated the queer youth panel, titled "How Queer Youth Change the World." Panelists were Ansheera "Ace" Hilliard, Chicago Freedom School (via Skype from school in Madison); Russell Love-Mitchell, Center on Halsted's public ally; and Brian Johnson of Gender JUST.
Johnson, who has been an activist since he was 14, said he saw the panel discussion as not only a way to build his experience as a public speaker but also to represent Gender JUST. "My mother's recent passing inspires me to organize. She taught me to never give up on anything. I took that from her, and I use that every day," said Johnson.
Hilliard said she is committed to empowering youth "to speak up for what they want and the change they want to see." Hilliard is one of the youth featured in Mary Morten's Woke Up Black documentary.
Center on Halsted's youth program director, Alicia Vega, said she was delighted to work with the other organizations to host a discussion that welcomed and offered insight on the problems young people face in today's world, and how to approach them and ignite change. Vega also said she was happy to dedicate the event in honor of the late Renae Ogletree (who died in April 2010).
Ogletree was a pillar of the LGBT community. Inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1998, Ogletree sat on a number of boards in support of LGBT community affairs, including Gay Games VII, the Chicago Police Department's 23rd District Gay and Lesbian Advisory Committee and Chicago Black Lesbians and Gays. Ogletree escorted Michelle Obama to a 2004 Lesbian Community Cancer Project benefit at South Shore Cultural Center. The community leader lost her battle with cancer at the age of 59 on April 23, 2010. However, Ogletree's work and dedication to youth activism lives on and acts as a model for adults and youth to follow, to practice and to put into action.
"Ogletree had a passion for young people and has done so much to support them. She is truly a historical piece for young people," said Vega.
Chicago Freedom School, one of the participating organizations for the panel discussion, is a nonprofit agency committed to social justice issues that affect youth. Mia Henry, Chicago Freedom School's director, believes that her organization's work and participation represents one of Chicago Freedom School's missions of creating safe spaces where youth can express themselves, brainstorm ideas and work together. According to Henry, the discussion was a step in the right direction of building healthy intergenerational relationships.
"We want to support young people who are interested in activism. Chicago Freedom School offers a renewed passion for understanding history and what young people are doing today. As adults, we can't leave young people on their own. We have to help them," said Henry.
Center on Halsted's youth program clinician Iu-Luen Jeng works with youth on their issues and concerns. Jeng was excited to see youth taking an active role in the problems and obstacles that affect them.
"I love seeing youth advocate for themselves. I think it's exciting to see young activists express how they feel and what they want. This is an example of how social justice can take place in a different way," said Jeng.
See more photos from the event online at www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com .