Each year over 120 youth activists gather in Washington, D.C. to share expertise with one another and Advocates for Youth staff; learn about the latest findings and legislation that affect reproductive health; participate in trainings; and make a commitment to be lifelong advocates for young people’s reproductive and sexual health and rights. Then they head to Capitol Hill to educate their representatives on why comprehensive sexual health education is so important for young people.
Groups attending the conference included:
1 in 3 Organizers. These college students attend a special pre-conference where they will learn how to support abortion rights through sharing women’s stories. This year, the groups attending the Urban Retreat included:
State Youth Activist Councils from Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, and South Carolina. Working with partner organizations, these groups of young people will motivate for comprehensive sex education and other important youth rights at the state and community level.
Campus Organizers. These students at colleges and universities organize their fellow college students to work for youth reproductive and sexual health and rights.
International Youth Speak Out members from Jamaica, Nepal, and Nigeria lead councils in their home countries to promote youth inclusion and youth sexual health and rights.
International GLBT Health and Rights advocates work for the rights of LGBT people in their home countries.
International Youth Leadership Council members are US-based college students who advocate on behalf of young people in low and middle income countries.
Young Women of Color Leadership Council members advocate for HIV prevention and reproductive justice and the inclusion of young women of color in prevention programs.
YouthResource members advocate for LGBT rights in their communities and provide peer education and support to LGBT young people.
It’s a diverse gathering, but these young people all have one thing in common: they are fierce, motivated activists working hard to make youth voices heard!
“I had such a wonderful time in DC (like always) advocating for Reproductive Justice and being around such amazing young leaders in our country! Urban Retreat always reminds me that I am never alone in this fight!” – Bree, Young Women of Color Leadership Council
“Urban Retreat is always so HECTIC. I LOVE IT THOUGH! Just being around so many people so invigorated about CHANGE and in a culture where young adults are regarded as HUMANS with RIGHTS and THOUGHTS instead of irresponsible, hormonally driven kids who need to be guided in the right direction instead of allowed to decide for themselves what the direction is.” – Briana, Young Women of Color Leadership Council
Here’s what happened at this year’s Urban Retreat:
1 in 3 Campaign Pre-Conference
For a second year, the Urban Retreat kicked off with a 1 in 3 Campaign pre-conference. Twenty youth activists were selected to participate in training and workshops on storytelling and abortion access. Activists discussed the history of abortion, heard from those who work on the frontlines of the abortion issue – abortion providers, abortion fund staff, and clinic escorts – and began to put together action plans to take the Campaign back their university campuses. The 1 in 3 Campaign is about ending the cultural stigma and shame women are made to feel around abortion. During the pre-conference, youth activists saw firsthand the power of stories and how sharing stories can empower others to end their silence and encourage all supporters of abortion access to take a stand.
Opening Plenary and Workshops
The official opening of the Urban Retreat on Friday morning included a welcome from Advocates’ board chair Deborah Arrindell and an inspirational speech from Advocates’ Executive Director Deb Hauser. The opening plenary also featured the “fabulous and fierce” work of youth activists to promote sexual health around the world. Four youth activists shared their stories: Kike Taiwo a member of the International Youth Speak Out Project, Veronica Lozano a Youth Resource activist, Briana Dixon a member of the Young Women of Color Leadership Council, and Stephen Chukwumah an International GLBT Health and Rights Activist. The activists highlighted their own work and the meaning of Rights, Respect, Responsibility in their activism.
The second and third days of the retreat were packed with amazing workshops and trainings including workshops on working with the media, storytelling as activism, direct action, fundraising, as well as a deep dive into reproductive health, rights, and justice frameworks and many others. Advocates’ staff was joined by board members and experts in the field to conduct the trainings.
While the youth activists had time to catch some of the local sights and try some local favorites – Ben’s Chili Bowl and Ethiopian food – the evening programs each night brought the youth together for crafts and discussion.
Saturday evening a panel of international youth to discussed LGBTQ issues including what it is like to be LGBTQ and to live in Uganda, Nigeria, Jamaica, and Lebanon; how youth activists are risking their safety to fight for human rights for LGBTQ in their countries; and their hopes for a better future.
The closing dinner featured award winning poet and activist Sonya Renee who provided an uplifting and inspiring talk and poetry about her life as an activist, followed by the traditional Urban Retreat talent show.
Before heading back home, youth activists descended on Capitol Hill to lobby Congress for the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act. Over 100 youth activists visited over 90 Congressional offices advocating for comprehensive sexual health education. The international youth attended meetings with the White House and State Department to highlight the needs of young people around the world and in particular the need for action on LGBTQ rights.
“We are activists. For a reason. Full of passion. Screaming for our rights, your rights and our future generations. We are activists. Because we know pain. Screaming at those of power and saying how dare you we aren’t valuable. Let us show you what real leaders look like. Let us show YOU that we aren’t meant to be silent.” – Veronica, Youth Resource
Youth activists, Advocates for Youth Staff, and youth coordinators all left the event inspired, rejuvenated, and ready for an amazing year of activism! Or as Amara-Nycole of Youth Resource put it the next day:
“Back home from D.C. ready to get to work! Urban Retreat once again rejuvenated my sense of self and my love for the work I do. I’m more inspired than ever. I appreciate the conversations and laughs and thanks to the young people that allowed me to share that beautiful space with them. Let’s do this ya’ll!”