My Day at the YES! Conference
By Janette Cruz
When you hear the word Conference you usually think of men or women in business attire, and long, boring, and useless diagrams. However, on October 23,2011 I was a YES! leader at the YES! Conference and the word boring was far from it. I got there around 7ish and it ended around 5 but those hours flew by so fast. As soon as the first school arrived– music, like “Firework” by Katy Perry started playing. My friend Erin and I were in charge of playing games (ice breakers) with the different schools and it was a lot of fun interacting with people our age from all over CT, Mass, and RI.
It was up beat, filled with energy and just fun. I loved the poet Jamele Adams, he gave me inspiration and energy. I n fact, he inspired me to make my speech for Names Can Really Hurt Us (an anti-bullying program at my school) into a poem about discrimination. The workshops during the conference were very informative and let everyone participate (through sharing of thoughts, feelings, memories, etc.). I was not assigned to a workshop but I walked around and listened to a few and it seemed like everyone was enjoying themselves.
I attended a workshop called “That’s Soooo Gay!” about how homophobic language, attitudes, and feelings create an unsafe school culture and how homophobia hurts not just people who are LGBTQ, but everyone. The woman who was running this workshop got sick and had to leave, leaving my friend Matt and I in charge. We passed out some papers that she left and continued the discussion about positive and negative stereotypes of people in the queer community.
It was interesting to hear what others (not only ppl who were LGTBQ but allies also) thought about being LGBTQ in their school. They talked about how they felt and why they felt that way. For example, a male said: “I’m gay and proud of it but that doesn’t mean I’m going to want to have sex with every guy I see,” properly correcting a prejudice people have. I loved hearing what allies thought because they are usually forgotten when you think about LGBTQ/queer community. When an ally male said, “I support my friends who are gay or lesbian, etc. but since I hang with them, people often think I’m gay too, even though I’m not.”
We also talked about how being LGBTQ is not a choice but a discovery/acceptance within yourself that you were born that way. In addition to this we also talked about how to be an ally. I enjoyed the discussion but wished it wasn’t so much like a lecture in a way, since our presenter got sick. Matt and I weren’t so sure how well we did at talking about/ leading a workshop until one of the guys who participated in the workshop told us that he really learned a lot from the workshop and enjoyed it. It was a really cool feeling, knowing that the message really got through.
In the afternoon I saw a group of improv students perform. They showed the perspective of each person in a bullying situation–bully, victim, bystander, and ally. In the afternoon I saw a movie called “Bullied” of a guy who was bullied in school so much that he was beaten, threatened and almost killed because of his sexual orientation. He was the first to sue his school for not taking action and helping him with this serious situation.
I also really enjoyed the part of the conference where all the youth had to come up with an idea of how to take all that they learned that day and bring it back to their school. They wrote it on a note card and had to walk around exchanging note cards with everyone until the sound of the whistle blew (kinda like musical chairs haha). Then we were told to rate/add suggestions to the idea, so everyone got to see each others idea and see if it would work.
Overall it was a wonderful time. I was interviewed during the conference on why I was helping and the answer is because I am part of the group called “youth” and change will start happening if I take action and help my fellow peers. Youth should have a say in what is right and what is wrong. I learned new things, met new ppl and had fun while doing all of this. This conference makes me want to continue to find new ways to stop discrimination, prejudice, bullying, etc. in my school.
The YES! conference was only the beginning of the actions that youth are doing/going to do to stop bullying.
We, the youth have power and it’s time to use it to help the current generation and the next.
ps: we had the best dance parties during break. haha c:
Janette is a student at Wethersfield High School. She is a recent alum of NCCJ’s ANYTOWN program and has been YES! Leader all year long. We are continually impressed with her ability to rise to the occasion as she did at the conference with Matt Wilson when their facilitator got sick. That was pretty rocking to see.