Powell House Youth Attend the 2016 White Privilege Conference
Chris DeRoller, Youth Program Director
We woke shortly after dawn. Thirteen of us stumbled around in an unfamiliar but beautiful building, put out breakfast, ate breakfast, cleared everything away including tables and chairs and walked the half mile to the commuter train to catch the 7:23 into center city, Philadelphia. Turned around in the station after disembarking, we walked in a large circle to the Marriott, home of the White Privilege Conference for the next four days. Inside the Marriott, streams of people headed up. We followed. Soon we were lost in a crowd of people looking for registration, for the Youth Action Project, for the hall where the opening ceremonies would take place, for the restrooms. In the midst of trying to find our way, we ran into the remaining three in our group – laden with their luggage and sleeping bags. Finally we found the Youth Action Project registration and they had badges for most of our group, more to come they promised. I felt a little at loose ends leaving my teens in the chaotic mass of bodies all standing kind of awkwardly around waiting for something to happen. I tried peeking back in around lunchtime but was gently, yet firmly shooed away with the words “They’re fine”.
Transformation. It’s 5:30 pm, my head is full from keynote speakers and a fabulous workshop. I sit on a bench and wait for my group to be released, hoping the day has not been too rough on them. Suddenly, I see small groups of 10 to 15 youth wandering back to their staging room, passing by me. In each of the groups, I see one or more of my kids engaged in intense conversations with people they had not known before today. They are smiling and animated. At dinner that night, they can’t stop talking: about what they heard, about how amazing the speakers were, about how good it was to hear from kids whose experiences were so different than theirs…or so much alike. “Can we go to the Poetry Slam tonight?” “Can we stay for the Coffee House?” “Thank you so much for bringing us.” I heard “thank you” repeatedly over the next two days, both from the kids and from other NYYM Friends who I encountered at the WPC-17. It made the hours and hours of planning and re-planning and the sleepless nights thinking about planning and re-planning worth it. I was glad we came.
The Powell House contingent to this year’s White Privilege Conference in Philadelphia included 12 teens (9th –12th grade), 2 young adult chaperones and 1 parent plus me. My adult support staff was excellent at jumping in when needed. Maizy Broderick Scarpa, Eric Snare and Ileana Clarke were the perfect mix for this group. They were great at starting important conversations, integrating the group and helping debrief each night. They also benefited from the conference itself and brought their own enthusiasm for what they were experiencing back to the group. The youth themselves were fantastic at being ready in time to catch trains, find meals and help leave the spaces we used the way we’d found them. They were focused on the work of the conference, absorbing information and processing it. I am looking forward to seeing what emerges from them in the next several months.
We had by far the largest group of youth of any of the Northeastern Yearly Meetings attending. There were 21 youth from 4 yearly meetings. 13 from NYYM, 5 from NEYM, 2 from PYM and 1 from BYM. Kudos to New York Yearly Meeting Friends for their support in making this possible: The White Privilege Conference Planning Task Group for asking us to take a group early enough for us to do it and providing a free registration, Jeff Hitchcock for keeping us in the information loop, Robin Alpern for upbeat supportive emails, Susan Wolf for paying for the transportation to Philadelphia, Maribeth Becker for housing me during my preliminary trip in March and donating scholarship money, the Witness Fund for a grant for housing, public transportation and registration fees for 2 of our chaperones, the Bob Bacon Fund for stipends for two young adults, the Barrington Dunbar Fund for paying for 3 youth registrations and Powell House for allowing us to donate 120 hours of work time. The generous monetary support helped us keep the cost of the conference down so that all youth who wanted to participate were able to. There were also a number of Friends who offered support as needed, especially when a medical emergency arose on Saturday. We knew all those affected were being tenderly and capably cared for and that there were people in the wings ready to step forward if we asked.
We were also fortunate to be able to use the Chestnut Hill Meetinghouse for lodging. The space was comfortable and allowed us to decompress and re-gather as a group in the evenings. Thank you Chestnut Hill Friends, Phil and Mary in particular! We appreciated the opportunity to converse with New England Yearly Meeting youth over breakfast and on the train as we shared the meetinghouse space and I enjoyed collaborating with Nia Thomas, the Young Friends/Young Adult Coordinator for NEYM.
I think I speak for the group though when I say our deepest gratitude goes to the presenters and organizers of the White Privilege Conference for their vision, honesty, courage and humor over the past 17 years. Theirs is a message of hope and strength in the face of systemic violence and oppression.