Let’s Get Together

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The Role of Conferences in Youth Organizing

Planning and hosting a conference--summit, convening, whatever you call it--is a formative experience; it opens the door for many opportunities for growth. But it’s an exhausting process, often requiring a lot of personal and financial resources. So sometimes it’s just about weighing the pros and the cons. 

Jon, youth organizer from the Baltimore Algebra Project talks about what it was like to plan and organize the Free Minds Free People Conference. 

Let’s talk about the benefits… 

  • Excellent learning opportunity for young organizers. A way to teach them a range of skills like event planning, public speaking, and facilitation.
  • Exposes young people to new people and ideas. Planning a conference often leads to forming partnerships with new organizations. 
  • Being able to see hard work come into fruition. A lot the campaign goals of youth organizers take years to see the impact, but with a conference they can see the immediate outcomes of their work.
  • Putting youth and adult equity to the test. Since planning a conference takes a so much time an effort, it can often be a strain on young people who have a plethora of things going on. So conference planning is an opportunity to work to find ways that youth and adults can work in a healthy partnership.

On the other hand, planning a conference comes with it’s challenges and struggles… 

  • Conferences require a lot resources. It takes a lot of funding, time, and people to put one on. 
  • Takes focus away from organizing work. When time is dedicated to organizing a conference, focus is taken away from campaign goals. Even trying to balance conference planning and organizing can be exhausting.

Obviously the challenges will vary depending on the scope of conference. But my biggest frustration about conferences is that they are often isolated, educational events that don’t directly connect to the bigger strategic goals. 

Stephanie, a program participant at GreenRoots in Chelsea, Mass., talks about how turn an event into something more. 

So conference are a great way for young people to build organizing skills and confidence, AND when they seem to work best when there is a clear next step that keeps the momentum and moves the bigger goals forward.

by Becca Folkes-Lallo