Yalla Youth Leaders On the RISE!
By Janice Reynoso
Last July, Yalla was fortunate enough to send five students to On the RISE, a six-day youth leadership retreat. Our students, who ranged from a rising high school freshmen to a Yalla College Bound alumna, united with other youth from the urban neighborhoods of San Diego in Idyllwild, California, to spend the week focusing on adaptive leadership and transformational change.
The days began with meditation and an invocation, followed by the day’s activities, which included everything from yoga and hiking to creating Person of the Year Awards highlighting the accomplishments and impact each student envisions for him or herself.
After lunch, participants delved into a microcosm of our communities and entered “The Spiral,” where youth participants and faculty participate in a 60-minute discussion while seated in spiral. By design, some participants sat with their backs turned to others in the room, creating an awkwardness and an ambiguity. The silence, comments, gestures, and questions as well as the significance of where participants chose to sit and how they each represented others in society, all played a role in discovering the controversies, affirmations, and confusion that made the spiral such a fantastic learning tool.
By the end of the activity, participants began to see the ties between The Spiral and world issues or things happening in their communities back home. For example, why did most the female students sit on one end of the room while the center of the spiral was exclusively occupied by the males, and how does this meekness or boldness represent the world we know? The Spiral helped give students the opportunity to recognize and discuss these topics.
At the close of each day, youth had the opportunity to share feelings or insight during “Real Talk.” Each participant would have an opportunity to vent, ask for advice, relate a story, or receive a “kick in the pants,” which is when someone asked peers to hold them accountable for their progress towards reaching a goal or transforming a bad habit to a positive. During this time, many students really opened up and shared personal concerns and stories with the group.
On the last day, the youth presented their Community Action Projects (CAP), which varied in scope and focus. JenMichel Marquez, one of our Yalla youth, will be designing a zine (a small circulation self-published magazine) to reflect community issues and inspire action. Dani Matti, a Yalla 10th grader, decided to dedicate his CAP to doing outreach and help recruit five new youth into Yalla programs. He wants them to be able to benefit from all Yalla has to offer. Another participant decided to continue her work with San Diego Pride to promote awareness of LGTB issues, as well as develop a workshop for recognizing and supporting the victims of sex trafficking.
The experience was truly transformative for the On the RISE youth. Dani Matti commented that he felt as though he had new friends, the kind he can feel close to and trust when talking about life and sharing concerns. He was not the only one who felt this way; many of the youth, both male and female, shared their dreams, family stories, plans to change the world, and even some tears. Society often dictates that we keep our feelings tightly buckled down safe behind a “mask”–especially in new situations–but at On the RISE a room full of youth, many of whom just met, came together to support each other, drawing on compassion and withholding judgement. At On the RISE, the “masks” came off and hearts and minds opened.