Tag Archives: youth empowerment

NCCJ Announces Sophia Dzialo as the 2012 Youth Human Relations Award Winner!

17 Feb

Sophia Dzialo, 2012 NCCJ Youth Human Relations Award Winner

NCCJ is super excited to announce the 2012 Youth Human Relations Award Winner: Sophia Dzialo.  Each year NCCJ celebrates one youth leader from Connecticut and one from Massachusetts who has shown significant achievement in creating communities free of bias and bigotry.  Sophia is 17 years old, a senior at Hall High School, has shown determination, resilience, responsibility, and dedication towards carrying the mission of NCCJ into her community ever since her first experience at Camp ANYTOWN in 2009.  She is a quiet, yet a powerful leader; eagerly committing herself to causes she cares about and wants her community to care about also.  A vegan because of her love for animals, a strong supporter of women’s rights, and an ally for the rights of other oppressed groups most don’t think about, Sophia is a compassionate young leader who will surely make waves of change in the future.

As one of the key leaders of Hall High School’s ACTION Club, Sophia has dedicated herself to various projects, often taking on multiple responsibilities to ensure every projects success.  She volunteers for every opportunity her school has that speaks to community building, prejudice reduction, increasing awareness about an issue, and bringing people together in common causes.

Over the last three years, Sophia has been a counselor at ANYTOWN four times, co-facilitated workshops on gender, racism, and dating violence to groups of women at various middle and high schools across Hartford, worked with an organization to fight for the rights and respect for Native Americans, served as a youth leader for The YES! Campaign, fought to get fair trade products sold in her school, ran awareness campaigns to the plight of political prisoners and child soldiers through petitions, organized a school-wide pep rally with limited resources, and spearheaded her schools involvement in the Day of Silence. Through all of her extracurricular activities, Sophia remains strong academically and continues to inspire others by being a role model for the values she believes in.

NCCJ: What is your motivation to be so involved in change at your school? Why do you care about the projects you’ve invested so much time and energy in?

Sophia: I think that it is hard to say there is one motivation to get involved, I think that it definitely has been rooted to my experience at ANYTOWN. Knowing that it is possible to create such a safe environment has certainly pushed me to bring that experience into my community. Also, having such a supportive group of friends who I have worked with on everything certainly motivates you to continue. I can’t describe how I care, other than I just can’t imagine not caring about the people who are affected by the issues that I have dealt with. When you hear about the experiences that people go through, for example on reservations, it’s hard not to care. I would never want to be in their situation, and I hope that if the situations were reversed someone would care about me too.

NCCJ: One of the projects you worked was educating your school community about Native American Reservations. Why was this issue important to you?

Sophia: It started off with a comment made in one of our school newspapers about a similar relocation between super fans moving on a stadium and Native American’s being moved to Reservations. I wasn’t involved or even aware of the circumstances of reservations but I had known that the comparison wasn’t fair. In response, I worked with others to really research Reservations and the conditions there. I never would have imagined the horrific information that we learned. After hearing about the violence, abuse and neglect that have been demonstrated on the Reservations it is hard to forget about it. It has been shown that they are almost a forgotten race, and we couldn’t let that continue. It’s important me to pay attention to an issue that isn’t being talked about.

NCCJ: Sounds like empathy is often a first step to change. Would you say that’s correct?

Sophia: I can only speak for myself; however I think that for most others as well, empathy is the first step. It’s hard to make a change for something that you don’t fully understand or just can’t connect with. However, when I learn about a cause and then try to understand beyond just the facts I feel like I will be more motivated and dedicated to making that change.

NCCJ: You’re very right. What advice would you give to other young leaders who want to make change?

Sophia: I think that is a difficult question to answer. I would definitely say that committing yourself to an issue that is important to yourself or really research what you want to take a stand for. If you are working to change something that you can’t fully connect with, and then you aren’t going to enjoy making a change. Also, working with others that care about the issue is the most important thing. You can’t always do everything, which is the most important thing. Being able to rely on others really helps.

Join us in congratulating Sophia and celebrate her successes at the 2012 NCCJ Human Relations Award Banquet on April 26, 2012.

Kimmie’s Power: The POWER that I have now is the same power that I possessed when I was younger.

21 Nov

Kimmie Tran!

We (the YOUth) Have The Power!

By Kimtuyen “Kimmie” Thi Tran

From early on, it’s been conditioned into my being that there are things that I can do and things that I am not allowed to do. Do NOT touch that. Do NOT go to the bathroom without permission. Do NOT break the rules. You are forced into this box that conditions everyone to think that they are incapable of making decisions without someone’s approval, otherwise there are consequences. We are not allowed to break the molds that the society is trying to condition us into.

Why is the one thing we emphasize when kids are growing up is the negative powers of NO, DON’T, CAN’T, and SHOULDN’T?

Young adults feel like they have no power as they are maturing and growing. When Young Adults have to make a choice to do something, they quite often have to try to overcome the barricades of NO, DON’T, SHOULDN’T in order to accomplish something.

Thus, The YES! Campaign is the response and initiative to fix this NO epidemic! Instead of telling youth and young adults that they are not allowed to do something, we are giving the youth THEIR POWER BACK! Instead of constantly saying NO you can’t do this, NO you shouldn’t do that, we are saying YES! you can do that, YES! you have the strength, YES! you are able! This is important because young adults come into contact with many situations and issues that require them to feel like they have power. YES! gives them the power to recognize that they have all the strength they need to conquer any problem that comes into their path! The YES! initiative is Youth Establishing Strength to make a difference!

YES! is that positive initiative that is needed to remind youth and young adults like me that we can make a difference because we have that strength. Being a college student of color at an all-girls college that recognizes the strength we all possess is a reminder that YES! is that admonition for me that I have the strength to do anything I set my mind to. Power is not suddenly given to me because I am older or because I am in college. The power that I have now is the same power that I possessed when I was younger!

My ability to recognize my strengths are constantly emphasized through The YES! Campaign. YES! is the positive affirmation in my life that I am able and have the potential to do what I want to!!! I am able to break through barriers that have been placed on me because of what the society thinks I am capable of. I can show everyone the strength I have by standing up and saying YES!

YES! I can do what I want to make this world a better place!

YES! I have the strength to oppose the oppressor!

YES! I can stand up for myself, my beliefs, and others beliefs that I care about!

YES! with everyone standing together, we are a force that will become unstoppable because NO ONE will have the power to tell us NO WE CANT because we KNOW YES! WE CAN!

——

Kimmie Tran is a senior at Smith College studying Pre-Med, with a major in in Religion and a minor in Chemistry.  Kimmie continues to be passionate about social justice, enjoys volunteering at hospitals, cooking, and has attended NCCJ’s ANYTOWN program multiple times as a counselor along with being involved in activities on campus.

Caleb’s Story: I’ve learned that I would rather stand up than to silence myself by committing suicide.

14 Nov

Caleb!

Dear Diary – and to those of you who read this,

My name’s Caleb Rhys Wilkie, I’m sixteen years into this life, I attend Westfield High School (go Bombers!) as a junior, I’m close with my ridiculously large family, I have really good friends, and like many college-bound students at this age, I’m beyond stressed when it comes even to starting to look colleges. Oh! Also: I’m

Gay.

Catch-up:

I came out the summer after seventh grade (at age thirteen) slowly to friends. My goal by the end of eighth grade was to be out to 100 people, including family, and then have a big party. The party didn’t happen. However, I met and reached my goal of 100, doubled it, and then just figured what the hell and decided to tell everyone. I had guts. At thirteen I was openly gay. By fourteen, I had my first relationship ever, and it was going strong. It ended after five months but that’s a different story.  In the end, middle school wasn’t too shabby.

As I am still in High School, I can’t finalize my report on it; can’t judge it until it’s all over and it’s in the past. Although, one finding that won’t look so good on its record is that freshman year was full blown hell; with sophomore year being barely an improvement.

I fit the statistic: I am gay and I was hearing, “homo,” “faggot,” and “sissy” about 26 times a day or as statistics accurately state – once every fourteen minutes. I was being ignored. Sure, I had my friends, but the occasional talk with someone random in class would’ve been cool too. I had no one to relate to, there weren’t any other gay guys out in my school even though my school has 1600 kids.  I dreaded going to a few of my classes. The thought of being required to spend forty-six minutes in a class and be humiliated by kids while the teacher practiced the “ignorance is bliss” ideology Revolted me. Anyways, feeling alone and wanting to attract more gay people into my life, I figured I ought to change myself. I figured I ought to be more gay. I Googled “gay” to help. At that moment I became self-conscious. Google filled my screen with a bunch of pictures of beautiful men, all of them fit and in shape or skinny. Once again I felt alone – I didn’t fit into what the society’s idea of what a “real” gay guy is now – and of course I didn’t fit in with the straight people. I was friends with straight people, but I always felt I was not one of them. So I decided to be gayer in a different way.

I wore heels.

Yeah, that was a whole bunch of tiring fun. Being questioned nearly 24/7, laughed at, treated differently than I was the day before, being pushed, being tested to see if I could walk in them (I could), asked by teachers to give them a reason, talked about all over school, feeling intimidated to go to the bathroom, and then being yelled at by my mom when I got home for wearing the heels that I bought. The day I wore heels is the day that everything erupted. It’s the day I had an urge to commit suicide. I was done with being judged and being made fun of, being questioned, being ignored. I was done. Fortunately, I did not go through with it after going to a crisis center. The day I gave up and asked to die was also the day I asked to live, said yes to myself, and decided to make a big, fucking change.

Sophomore year was just a tiny step up from freshman year, like one of those oddly placed half-steps we’ve all stumbled upon. Slurs still happened, but not as bad. I became the president of the Gay Straight Alliance, making it more active than it ever was before. I stuck with my decision to make that big fucking change.

How?

I got educated. The NCCJ (the National Conference for Community and Justice) was my place of choice. I had ties with them because I attended their ANYTOWN summer program, I got involved, and I put what I learned and what I believed to practice.

I introduced the NCCJ’s BRIDGES program to the school and made sure it happened.  (75 of my peers have now gone through the program!) I practiced what I preached. I pointed out hateful comments. I spoke up for myself and others.

I did what made me happy. I gave up trying to be anything else than what I was.

Present Day

So diary, I’ve learned some stuff through my experiences. I’ve learned that it’s perfectly acceptable – and normal – to not be the stereotypical definition of gay. I’ve learned that it’s perfectly acceptable to wear whatever I want to wear. I’ve learned that I’m not truly alone, that just because I don’t see certain people every day or as often as I would like doesn’t mean they aren’t right beside me. I’ve learned that I would rather stand up than to silence myself by committing suicide. I would rather protect myself and others in the future from being targeted than to give up. I learned that people who care, sometimes tell you not do to something because they want to keep you safe.  So I have learned to balance being myself and keeping myself safe – and to listen to their concerns. I’ve learned that people are not going to be accepting and welcoming overnight, it’s a gradual process. I’ve learned to relax and take a step back instead of being constantly overwhelmed. I’ve learned to support my peers who are fighting for their own equality albeit concerning: sex, race, class, religion, etc… because in the end I don’t want anyone to hurt and it’s all one big fight against hate. I’ve learned to be articulate and use my words and voice as needed. I’ve learned I have power, and people will – and do! – listen. I learned that my struggles have made me who I am today; a proud, happy, gay sixteen year old who I would not change a thing about.

I still struggle often with self-esteem issues – I find it hard to love myself after being disrespected in the ways that I have been. I still feel the scars of the words, of being avoided and ignored. I still sometimes feel out-of-place and alone. I still feel weak. However, I remember there’s nothing wrong with just being Caleb Rhys Wilkie, and that I can genuinely say I stuck to my truly life-changing choice to make a big fucking change.

Diary and others, thank you for listening to my story of how I found myself, and to how I said YES!

P.S.  The statistic was found at: http://www.nmha.org/index.cfm?objectid=CA866DCF-1372-4D20-C8EB26EEB30B9982

YES Kayla creates change.

21 Oct

THIS is Shae’s Story

21 Oct

Thank you Kammie for sharing why YOU say YES!

21 Oct

What’s that Rosie?

7 Oct

What does Rosie say YES! to???? Let’s find out?

 

NCCJ Presents at the 3rd Annual Conference on Bullying & Safe Schools

6 Jun

Last week, the staff and youth of NCCJ were asked to present about their anti-bullying work in schools, and the new YES! Campaign, at the 3rd annual New Hampshire Conference on Bullying & Safe Schools. This year’s conference focused on new research and practice strategies to improve teaching about issues of safe space and inclusion within public schools. Among the many presenters at the conference, the NCCJ youth stood out as brillant, strong, and empowered. They captivated their audience with skits, fishbowls, and open discussion about the values of the YES! Campaign. Check out this video of their presentation!