John is a 14-year-old from Baltimore, Maryland. He was one of the attendees and presenters at the virtual All Youth Connecting Conference 2020, which focused on how to best serve opportunity youth – those 16-24 who are out of school and out of work. The All Youth Connecting Conference is important because it gives practitioners and supervisors a chance to look into the youth’s mind, explaining what currently works and what needs to change to provide a more operational world. John was invited to join the All Youth Connecting Conference through a connection with HeartSmiles, a youth serving organization based in Baltimore.
How did you get introduced to HeartSmiles?
I was introduced to HeartSmiles by one of my closest friends. My friend emphasized the point that the positivity and family feel brought upon her by the group at HeartSmiles was radiating and so uplifting. The positive comments she was referring to all stemmed from CEO Ms. Joni Holifield. Ms. Holifield works day in and day out to make sure the youth of Baltimore reach their potential, keep a successful mindset, and to make sure the youth receive as many opportunities as she can give (paid opportunities, I might add). Ms. Holifield encourages the youth in the organization to take amazing opportunities, such as this one, in order to learn, grow, and spread knowledge to others through youth voices about what youth actually need and want to succeed now and in the future.
Describe your experience attending the All Youth Connecting conference.
I attended the All Youth Connecting Conference from June 21-25th where there were many inspiring presenters. The focus of the conference was on how to best serve youth ages 16-24 who are out of school and out of work, sometimes referred to as opportunity youth or disconnected youth. Many presenters and attendees discussed the gaps between serving youth and the importance of involving youth in the process to ensure youth, like myself, have successful skills and lifestyles.
Describe your experience presenting at the All Youth Connecting conference.
My experience presenting at the All Youth Connecting Conference for 2020 was an experience I will never forget. Everything ran as smoothly as possible and I am very proud of my colleague, Kamri Moses, and I for elaborating on a topic that is very important for the operational world. I am also proud of being able to present on a national scale at such a young age, being 14 years old. The conference was an opportunity that most youth, especially African American youth, do not get to experience and I am proud to speak and pave the way for all youth to have a voice for our opinions to be taken seriously.
What was a memorable moment from the conference?
One presentation that specifically intrigued my attention, was focused on trauma, mental health, and youth leadership in the wake of the current social justice movement going on in our country. The presenters discussed the hashtag Black Lives Matter and went into detail about exactly why people should care and how it is important to sustain the unity of the human race. Being a young black man, it was interesting to hear about this movement, from a presenter who is not black. However, the presenter’s partner is African-American and he expressed his strong opinion that he believes people who look like his partner should not be discriminated against and should be embraced among all races. I found it interesting and somewhat refreshing to see someone who is not a part of the black community be so passionate about preserving and supporting us. I was also relieved to see that both presenters relied less on their PowerPoint and statistics to convey their points, but instead came off as if they were speaking purely from their hearts.
What’s one thing that stood out from the conference?
There were a myriad of presentations from different youth who brought interesting points to my attention. I took a lot from the Ten Core Competencies for Youth- and Youth-Adult-Centered Mental Health Systems conversation. The presenter brought to my attention that there are much more disconnected youth than there should be. One of the main reasons why teens are disconnected is because they don’t have a core figure who they can depend on, learn from, and know that they are cared for by. This stuck with me personally because I was in that position at one point in my life. I felt I wasn’t adequately supported in my ambitions by my adult counterparts. One thing I learned from that conversation is that the key to intercepting youth from falling into disconnection is to show them that you actually do care for them and genuinely want them to succeed, otherwise it is pointless and near impossible to grab youth’s ears and have them listen.
Overall, I enjoyed attending the All Youth Connecting Conference and it was inspiring to hear so many important opinions and contributions from people of my age group. I want to thank everyone who made the conference an unforgettable experience and I hope to connect with the public on a national platform again soon!