Making a movement: Summit creates opportunities for future social justice activists and leaders

Roze Brooks

Empowering Queer Activists and Leaders (EQUAL), Kansas City’s “for youth-by youth Gay Straight Alliance Network” held a Youth Empowerment Summit in Royal Hall Saturday, March 31st.

Staying true to their mantra of “connecting queer youth across the metropolitan area,” the scheduled workshops, networking and keynote speakers offered an inclusive opportunity for surrounding high schools, college students and educators to gather.

Participants could attend workshops devoted to various topics such as safe sex, body positivity, religion, transsexual inclusion and LGBT history.

Yahaira Carrillo, founder of the Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance and leader of the national DREAM movement was the featured keynote speaker. A $25 registration fee covered the events and activities, breakfast and lunch and a Summit-exclusive t-shirt. To include as many hopeful youth as possible, EQUAL offered a scholarship to those who couldn’t have otherwise attended. The funding was provided through community donations and fees non-profit organizations paid to purchase tabling space at the Summit for outreach purposes.

“We are ultra-grassroots and are always looking for volunteers and donations,” said EQUAL President Wick Thomas. “We have a strong commitment to making sure that no young person is ever turned away from our programs for lack of funds so we require a lot of community support.”

Along with the event’s networking potential, “We also provide activist and leadership trainings, and connect related issues of oppression that aren’t always immediately connected to LGBTQ issues,” said Thomas. Participants benefit by knowing the organizers want them to succeed in becoming well-informed leaders in this social justice movement.

“We want each of the attendees to start to understand that racism, classism, ableism, sexism and colonialism are all queer issues,” said Thomas.

According to Thomas, the Summit is organized by a high school-aged group within EQUAL, the Phoenix Leadership Team (PLT). It is comprised of selected applicants from the area. They endure intensive, year-long training from different leaders, covering several aspects of social justice organizing. These positions and opportunities are only available to those under age 18 or high school students.

“PLT members are in charge of organizing several EQUAL events and actions, including the EQUAL Empowerment Summit and the Day of Silence,” said Thomas.

Alyx Vacca, a PLT member who got her start with EQUAL at a previous year’s Summit said this is, “An excellent way to connect with peers who have shared similar experiences with you.” Members from older generations have voiced to her that they “Would have loved for this event to have existed when they were younger; an event for youth where they could be exactly who they were without any judgment.”

This year’s intent was to make the Summit bigger and better than previous years.

“The original Summit happened in 2005 and was named the Gay-Straight Youth Empowerment Summit. It has evolved through the years into its current form, growing and changing each year,” said Thomas. Thomas hopes “Everyone leaves with a sense of community and a desire to pursue social justice in their lives and work.”

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