Leaders of tomorrow? How about leaders of today!

2015 Youth Summit participants use powerful storytelling to advocate on Capitol Hill

by Anthony Bowman

This past week, I had the honor of hosting Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC’s second annual Youth Leadership Summit. Seventeen bright young Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders from across the country joined us in Washington, D.C. for three days of leadership trainings that culminated in meetings with the offices of members of Congress.

The summit provides a unique opportunity for young advocates from across the country to come to our nation’s capital to network and learn together. Through interactive workshops and hands-on activities, summit participants build advocate skills and gain knowledge on policies and civil rights issues affecting Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

Using storytelling to advocate and connect became a running theme of the 2015 summit. We began by sharing stories with one another — about what made us who we are today, what drives us in our quest to be of service to our communities and to fight for social justice. This process of opening up to strangers is never easy, but it created a bond among the participants and in a short time forged friendships that will last forever.

But the storytelling did not stop there. Throughout the summit we emphasized in workshop after workshop how important storytelling is in advocacy work. Be it in a meeting with a member of Congress to show how policies impact people’s lives, or in our efforts to build alliances with those seemingly different from ourselves, the power of our stories and common bonds became apparent.

After the workshops were done, summit leaders worked with our policy attorneys to prepare for legislative visits with the offices of ten members of Congress, sharing policy priorities and putting storytelling into practice as they shared their personal experiences with legislative staff. Some visits were easy, some less so, but all gave a sense of accomplishment to those who participated. They had taken a stand for themselves and their communities.

After the legislative visits, several of the youth summit participants toured the monuments of the national mall. On the final day of the summit, they shared with me how they had stood at the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. had delivered his I Have a Dream Speech, and in that moment they realized that in taking a stand for a better world, they were following in the footsteps of this great leader.

Our youth participants have decided to keep the energy from the summit going and are working on a blog where they hope to share AAPI stories and narratives with other youth. The summit participants are also eligible for a $200 project stipend to support a community project on their campus or in their community. Past summit participants have used the funds for a variety of activities, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) clinics for high school students, which provided youth with pro bono legal counsel to navigate the DACA application process and identify resources for employment, higher education, and financial aid.

With Advancing Justice | AAJC staff members

As we learn more about how the 2015 Youth Summit participants will use what they learned in Washington to advocate, we will make sure to share their stories and successes.

Be sure to check out what the students had to say about their experience on the Advancing Justice | AAJC website.

Anthony Bowman is the community partners network manager for Advancing Justice | AAJC.

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