#OwnYourVoice Youth Empowerment Project

You know those mysterious holidays or national/international days of *insert whatever* that keep popping up — those days that gives us space to honor and celebrate things like donuts, polar bears, and random acts of kindness? Well, there are some very special observances this week that I’d like to draw some attention to because, you know what? They are important to me.

On Thursday, March 18, we celebrated Absolutely Incredible Kid Day and I know my kids have certainly earned some encouragement this year. When I try to imagine what it would have been like in my formative years to stay home, go to school online, and not see my friends for the better part of a year, I get pretty sad. I know so many children, including my own, who are struggling with extra anxiety and sadness — all of it on top of navigating the complexities of relationships with teachers, classmates, and friends almost wholly in an online space. I don’t know about you, but it took me a long time to understand that people who ended e-communications with a period weren’t angry, it was just the end of their sentence. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It’s a lot!

I took a few extra minutes on Thursday to share with my kids what makes them special to me and thanked them for being my *mostly* willing companions on this COVID-19 journey. They’ve made it both easier and harder — and although part of me dreams of two weeks alone in a cozy cabin with zero interruptions, I am so thankful for this extra time with them and for our general health and happiness.

Speaking of which — today, March 20, we observe not only SPRING, but an International Day of Happiness, established by the United Nations in 2013 to recognize the importance of happiness in our lives!

Tomorrow we celebrate World Poetry Day, honoring the written and “linguistic expression of our common humanity.” I have a special place in my heart for poetry and I see my love for photography as an extension of that. Just like poetry uses words — or even pauses — to capture the fullness of a moment, photography uses light and dark, compositional balance, and positive and negative space to capture the fullness of things that we might normally rush past. And then there is the incredible power of poetry in spoken word. The first time I heard Amanda Gorman speak, her words resonated so far into the depths of my soul that l wept — and felt hope in a time that otherwise felt pretty dark.

And last, but certainly not least, tomorrow is also the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Established in 1979 by the United Nations, this day is observed on the day that police in Sharpeville, South Africa, killed 69 people who were peacefully protesting apartheid “pass laws” in 1960; laws which have since been removed. “Youth standing up against racism” is the theme for 2021 and the goal is to engage the public, “foster a global culture of tolerance, equality and anti-discrimination and calls on each and every one of us to stand up against racial prejudice and intolerant attitudes.” So much work has been done worldwide and yet, as all-too-recent events continue to show us, there is so much more to do. My heart stands with those who feel the full weight of racism, prejudice, and hateful actions that happen far more often than any of us could ever know. I see you and I hear you. Let’s keep working together to make things better.

And it’s not just about fighting racism, but also about removing stigmas around mental health issues and eliminating the barriers that prevent people from accessing important mental health services. Which brings me to my idea…

The #OwnYourVoice Youth Empowerment Project

I’ve wanted to host a day of youth empowerment sessions for a while. My goal is to take some really cool photos of absolutely incredible young people. The images would include a textual element — a line from a favorite poem, a powerful song lyric, an intention word, or a fear that they want to flip on it’s head. It could be something they’ve written, heard, read, or even some inspiration selected from what we provide. My hope is that this combination of words and images will allow each participant to go forth with a deeper understanding of the power of their voice and the positive changes they can inspire with it. That they will stand taller in their role as the strong, intelligent, change-making humans they are.

The cost of a session is $85 for 20 minutes (multiple sessions can be purchased, if you want more time). It includes access to 3 final digital images and, even more importantly, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the therapy scholarship program at the Bloomington Center for Connection, a local organization that is already doing important work in our community and beyond (read more below).

If your child is interested in participating in this project, please fill out the form here!

The Bloomington Center for Connection is an organization that uses Relational-Cultural Therapy (RCT) to promote social change through connection. They explore how culture supports our relationships and how cultural barriers can drive us apart. They provide parenting workshops, individual family therapy, and trauma-responsive mental health services to all ages, using a variety of modalities from play therapy to mindfulness, for people of all ages. The BCC also publishes a podcast called ”My Racist Friend,“ through which long-time friends, Don Griffin, Jr. and Amy Makice explore the messy parts of relationships through the authentic lens of their friendship and the relational-cultural methods that Amy practices in her work.

SIDE NOTE: For those of you with fifth and sixth graders who could use some extra support, the BCC is offering a six-week relational group for fifth and sixth graders. The meetings will be on Tuesdays from 4:30-5:15, on March 23, 30, and April 6, 13, 20, and 27. Cost for the group ranges from $10-30 and includes craft supplies. Scholarships and sliding scale are available! Details here.

I am thrilled about the opportunity to provide scholarship support for individuals as well as programs like this one. If you want to be part of it, consider joining us for this project!