Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Courageous Conversations: ADL’s 24th Annual Youth Congress

by Matt Marenghi

The Blake Middle School Anti-Defamation League Peer Leaders made their annual trip to Boston this past Friday, April 13 for ADL’s 24th annual Youth Congress. Not only were this year’s speakers fantastic, a group of our veteran ADL Peer Leaders (Zoe, Sophia, and Freya) actually ran a breakout session.

We first heard from sisters Deanna and Mya Cook, students who had received multiple detentions at school for having hair extensions. The sisters felt that their hair extensions are reflective of their culture and identity, and thus any effort to not allow them would be discriminatory. They led a courageous fight to end their school’s discriminatory hair policy and inspired all of us in the same. “To make changes you have to make others aware. If I had stayed silent and removed my braids, the school would have continued doing it to other girls.”

The keynote speaker was Brittany Packnett, an educator, writer, and national leader in social justice that stood in protest on the front lines in Ferguson, Missouri. The passion for justice with which she spoke infected and inspired all of us. As much I was engaged, it was more satisfying to see how these speakers engaged our students. As Ms. Packnett exclaimed, “Courage is scary but silence is scarier. Never underestimate your power as students to change the world!”

A shot of fellow guidance counselor Ms. Allen and I with our peer leaders at the ADL Youth Congress
(I am flash sensitive, not asleep :)

Our own ADL Peer Leaders, Zoe, Sophia, and Freya did an awesome job leading their breakout session, giving a lesson in tolerance and understanding to other New England area middle schoolers. The rest of our Peer Leaders were fortunate to attend their own breakout sessions, getting the opportunity to connect with Peer Leaders from other area schools.

As is the case every year, I feel so fortunate to bring students from Blake to this event. It is truly a highlight for Blake’s ADL Peer Leader program.

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