Maegan is working on a longer post specifically about President Obama’s speech at the NCLR Conference this past Monday (of which I don’t think either of us desire to hear, I know I don’t!). In the meantime, I wanted to share some information that I have been reading from youth perspectives regarding youth being welcomed into the ballroom for the luncheon where President Obama gave his speech.
In short, youth participants in the Lideres Summit were originally invited to be in the room during the luncheon for the President’s speech. As reported by Ernesto Dominguez on Amplify Your Voice, on Sunday evening
“at the ‘Noche De Premios,’ Lideres participants were asked to give up their tickets to enter the Monday Luncheon event and hence give up the chance to be in the same room that President Obama would be giving his remarks from.
Participants were told that ‘seats have sold out to the lunch event, and to make sure youth get to see the President (over view screens), they were told to go to the overflow room only and give up their seats to ‘others.’”
Needless to say Lideres participants were upset and questioned if NCLR is committed to included youth in all aspects of the work they do. NCLR President Janet Murguía asked Lideres participants to “withhold criticism until after the lunch on Monday. We ask everyone to make sacrifices at this summit…’Judge me when this is all over.’ I believe we can deliver the President, and we will see what happens.”
The activism of the youth present resulted in this video where Murguía was questioned and offered clarification on the decision to replace youth participants in an “overflow” room. Below is the interview in English (sorry no transcript at this time):
One thing I noticed about this video is that it is youth created and I think it is great that Murguía made/found time (even if 5 minutes) to talk with you. I also noticed that towards the end of the video where Murguía indicates her plan to urge President Obama to go to the “overflow” room how she spoke to the youth about their activism. The reporter shares that the youth are also using their new media skills to reach out to President Obama regarding this situation and prior to the youth reporter finishing her statement Murguía speaks over her and states “I think any time you can use your new media strategies is great, but I’m telling you I have some really powerful advocacy skills and I believe I can deliver the President.”
Reminding myself to take deep breaths, that not everyone embraces a positive youth development approach, that this is probably a very challenging and stressful time for Murguía, I must state that I was so disappointed in this response it is sickening! First of all, this is NOT about what advocacy skills Murguía has, it is about the initial decision to remove youth participants so that more adult/traditional conference participants can join the luncheon replacing the space set aside for the youth. This is about recognizing that the work we need to do as a community requires just that a communal effort. It requires us to recognize that young people are powerful contributing members of this society. That they can and will (even if we don’t like it) mentor and teach us how to do things differently and effectively! It is not always the “adults” that have all the knowledge and wisdom to share. We need to understand our roles are not always to teach the youth, but to also learn in the process!
The image of a “kiddie table” came into my mind when I read this story. The youth participants being sent to another room called “overflow” (when they weren’t even overflow to begin with!) reeks so much of not making room for youth anywhere, even at the table. Which to me, ultimately means you are not welcome, old enough, privileged, or have not earned a space here. There is so much wrong in this approach!
I know conferences are stressful, I’ve organized national ones before and I know folks are asked to do all sorts of things not in their job description to make the event run smoothly. Yet, I’ve also been that conference participant who was asked to move somewhere else because of whatever the issue was (height, my hair blocking the person behind me, misspelling of my name, given the wrong credentials for entry, challenging the “expert on the panel, etc.).
Finally, if you are wondering if President Obama was recruited by those “powerful advocacy skills” to visit the “overflow room” where youth participants were, he was. He entered and from tweets regarding the interaction (you can read up on this by searching by hashtags #NCLRConf and #Lideres11) by youth participants present, he shook a few hands and took a few fotos then was off. NCLR senior staff are of course seeing this as a victory and that the youth were appeased. Some response to this was that Lideres participants deserve “more” and “substance.” It seems youth do not just want a foto op or a handshake, they want to be treated with respect! Shocking, I know….