Youth Media Conference Spurs Visions of a Bright Future

By Nia Thompson. Originally published by VoiceWaves.

Youth Reporter Nia Thompson speaking to the crowd of more than one hundred people at a recent Youth Media Conference in Sacramento.

I recently attended the second annual Youth Media Building Healthy Communities Producers’ Conference in Sacramento, California. Only, I didn’t just participate, I was one of the youth advisory board members who helped organize the whole shebang.

Yeah, I was pretty anxious.

Boarding the 7 a.m. flight from Long Beach to the state capitol, I felt nervous energy surging throughout my body, balling up in my stomach and squeezing my throat. This is it, I thought, no turning back.

Thompson, left, and other VoiceWaves Youth Reporters on the way to Sacramento.

I admit, before the conference I was wallowing in self-doubt, almost sure I was in way over my head. Who was I to help organize a conference for youth journalists across California? I still forget when to use a regular colon versus a semi-colon for Pete’s sake!

Thankfully my pity party didn’t last long. The youth advisors and I were greeted with nothing less than encouragement and assurance as we took the stage to open the conference.

I can say without a doubt that the conference was amazing! Ten out of 10, absolutely no complaints. Sure, I may be biased since I was on the advisory board and running on an adrenaline rush the whole time, but I had more fun in those two days than I’ve had in two months!

The weekend marked many firsts for me: first time flying without my parents, first time sleeping in my own hotel room, first time speaking in front of 100 plus people. It felt liberating to step out of my comfort zone and break away from my usual Long Beach routine.

There were so many highlights throughout the conference, from the incredible guest speakers Dana Griffin (a Sacramento reporter) and Devonte Jackson (Black Lives Matter), workshops covering photography or the school-to-prison pipeline, or the Sol Collectiveparty night that had everyone wishing we could rap in a different language.

Personally, the best thing about the conference for me was the people. I was surrounded by my people. People who cared about what I cared about, who felt the things I felt.

At home, before the conference, I had been feeling as though I was in a reoccurring state of frustration. On the day after election night, for example, I went to school to find that I had landed on a different planet.

Why wasn’t everyone in dismay? Why were people condemning those who were crying? I was one of those people crying! Every classroom felt too big that day while I seemed to keep shrinking.

But at the conference, I looked around and saw the faces of people who wore resistance like a badge and dressed head-to-toe in awareness. Like me, these people sought to spark change, to help others. Like me, these people craved expression in all forms. That is when I realized I was home.

YouthWire staff and Youth Reporters from Long Beach and Fresno pose together before heading back home.

We discussed issues that are impacting us all and matter. We spoke about creating safe and brave spaces for LGBTQ communities, police brutality, how we can stay connected throughout our long haul mission to drive change, and so much more.

Having those uneasy, often tense conversations was crucial to the conference, because those are the ones that are going to push us forward towards progress.

As cliché as this sounds, I have changed since the conference. The conference wasn’t just about having a good time, it was about making connections and empowering the youth. It let us know that not only do our voices matter, but they’re being heard.

I left the conference feeling so powerful, valuable and capable, I hadn’t realized I didn’t possess those beliefs in a long time.

I am grateful to have been a part of an event so necessary and beneficial to youth who strive to speak up for themselves as well as others.

If there is anything I took from this conference, it is that we, the youth, are the future. And the future is looking bright.