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S.t.a.r.t.: Youth Action Retreat and Other Accomplishments

May 27, 2014

S.t.a.r.t.: Youth Action Retreat and Other Accomplishments

S.t.a.r.t. culminated the 2013/14 school year with three powerful events that highlight both the potential and the influence of our work.

May 22, 2014: Youth Action Retreat

Students in the photograph above were planners for the first “Youth Action Retreat” hosted on May 22, 2014 by St. Mary University’s Culturally-Responsive Teaching Program and the Minneapolis Public Schools. S.t.a.r.t. students Kellie Winchell, Amirah Ellison and Nagma Garane played a strong role in helping to convene planning sessions and engaging student leaders from Edina, Southwest and Washburn High Schools. We also worked in collaboration with student performers and change agents from the group Voices for Change, graduates from Anoka-Hennepin area schools.

Approximately 125 students from two middle and six high schools came together with the overall objective of networking among groups working for racial justice, sharing ideas, training one another to create sustainable and realistic action plans and leaving the retreat with an action plan and toolkit for the 2014-15 school year. Students worked individually, in their school groups and across schools to talk about ways they could work constructively to close equity gaps within their schools.

In the first hour of the retreat, s.t.a.r.t. students Kellie Winchell and Amirah Ellison guided students with a mix-it-up activity in which students found “someone they could learn from or teach about” using questions about equity, such as “What is racial equity?” or “What was the Civil Rights Act of 1964?”

S.t.a.r.t. student Nagma Garane worked with Southwest High School senior Tamera Larkins to teach the retreat attendees about the “Iceberg of Student Voice,” a concept adapted from John Gerber’s “The Iceberg: A Tool for Guiding Systemic Thinking” and questions provided by Voices for Change leaders Stephon Rene, Amarachi Alaike, Isaac Ewumi and Kirsten Alfaro. Students were paired with allies through a “musical circle” exercise using Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy.” With their partners, they explored such tip-of-the-iceberg questions as:

• “How is student voice being used?” and
• “Which voices are heard?”

They also answered below-the-water questions, such as:

• “Which voices are unheard?”
• “What are the barriers against student voice?” and
• “How do we disrupt this pattern?”

Nagma and Tamera also introduced students to a “Power Mapping Exercise,” through which they were to reflect upon influencers in their school environments (other student groups, teachers, staff, parents, community members, media, etc.) and where to “map” them in a grid that considers axis such as which are the most powerful and strongly support student objectives and which strongly oppose the objectives or are least influential.

Using beat box, hip hop and spoken word, the Voices for Change students guided the students throughout the day with individual creative reflection. Over the lunch hour, students wrote their answers to the prompt, “I will use my voice to….” The exercise inspired retreat attendees to create and share their own poetry and spoken word with one another.

In the afternoon, students paired with other schools and groups with similar goals to talk specifically about strategies for accountability and sustainability, considering what accountability looks like—and planning the meetings, check-ins and calls to keep one another informed.

Special guests to the Retreat included School Board candidate Iris Altamirano along with two Arab and two Palestinian leaders from Israel visiting the U.S. through the organization “Promoting Tolerance through Education.” The educational leaders joined us through a collaboration of s.t.a.r.t., the State Department and the MN International Center. One of the visitors, Ms. Nasreen Haj-Yahya said that the retreat was the most beautiful thing that she had ever witnessed in the United States!

The Youth Action Retreat ended with a performance by Stephon René from Voices for Change singing his song “Unknown Future,” with the line “We can overcome as long as we do it together!”

May 12, 2014

bushCONNECT: On May 12, 2014, s.t.a.r.t. leaders Lamia Abukhadra, Elek Harris-Szabo and Fatuma Abdi attended the day-long event bushCONNECT Inspire, Equip and Connect networking event with co-advisors Terrall Lewis and Kate Towle to strengthen connections across networks of community leaders. The event included change agents from 30 different partner organizations from the states of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

The event opened with a live broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio featuring best-selling author Steven Johnson talking about his book, “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.” Johnson opened by speaking about the adage, “Conference rooms are where ideas go to die,” introducing the themes of “surprising collisions” and how 15% of the time, innovations are born from a process of the “slow hunch,” with multiple periods of tinkering, trial and error, and what Johnson referred to as “failing forward.”

Johnson encouraged the audience to keep a “spark file,” a place where we can record and monitor our own good ideas and said that innovation also springs from an inner-vacation, or “ino-vacation,” where we learn to place ourselves outside of common practices (such as conference rooms) to experiment with our ideas. He said that in the process of innovation, there are many “ideas that stay wrong for too long,” including “cultural blind spots,” and that ironically, the only way past them is to develop a “certain tolerance for failure” within ourselves. Eventually, he pointed out, we get through the failures to the brilliant idea.

The day’s workshops were filled with brilliant ideas, from work sessions on “The Escalator Speech” and a crash course on “Improv,” to a collaborative mosaic project, mind/body yoga instruction and salons with local thought leaders (including Karen Diver, Chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Bank of Lake Superior Chippewa and Margaret Anderson Kelliher, CEO of the Minnesota High Tech Association). Attendees were randomly assigned to salons and workshops, with the mix-it-up activity of negotiating for tickets from other attendees if they wished to attend a session for which they did not have a ticket.

The closing performance was an improvisational skit by actors from the troupe “The Theater of Public Policy” who performed a series of spin-offs from conversations and themes they had experienced throughout the day addressing the themes of innovation and “failing forward.” Leaders from the choral music organization “VocalEssence,” including their Founder and Artistic Director Philip Brunelle guided the entire audience in rounds and spoken word to keep us on our toes right until the end. To wrap up the day, s.t.a.r.t. student Lamia Abukhadra had an artist complete her “Career-cature,” an artistic profile of the career paths Lamia is likely to take as she continues to develop herself as a leader.
We are grateful to Michael Bischoff of the Social Innovation Lab for extending this invitation to the 2013/14 co-chairs of s.t.a.r.t. for their courage and commitment to leadership with intercultural bridging in our schools and community.

April 9, 2014

On April 9, 2014, s.t.a.r.t.’s Co-Chair Kyra Hood received a 2014 PeaceMaker Award for herself and for s.t.a.r.t. as part of Minneapolis Youth Violence Prevention Week. The Award is voted upon by representatives of the Minneapolis Health Department, Minneapolis Public Schools and PeaceMaker Minnesota to individuals and organizations whose work is focused on promoting peace and preventing violence in our Minneapolis schools.

During the 2013/14 school year, Kyra has acted as the Liaison to bring students together across cultural ethnicities and student groups. Kyra also presented the s.t.a.r.t. model to adults in a workshop entitled “Courageous Conversations for Nice Minnesotans” for the organization “Creating Resolution.” She also took on the commitment of presenting a workshop at the Twin Cities Social Justice Fair in October 2013. Kyra’s communication with educators following that workshop resulted in an invitation for s.t.a.r.t. students to co-develop teaching curriculum for the Associate Dean in the U of M’s College of Education and Human Development. Finally, Kyra co-presented a workshop entitled “Youth Telling: Why We Need to Get it Right (Not White)” at the Overcoming Racism Conference. The commitment required extensive preparation, and Kyra received high marks by the workshop participants.

Through her work in s.t.a.r.t., Kyra has been a valued contributor and leader. Her ability to inspire both peers and educators has transformed not only her own school, but other schools and organizations. She has just been accepted into Penumbra Summer Institute for Theatre and Social Justice!

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