Though most of the day was, like most educational forums, devoted to workshops, and spreading information, the Youth Empowerment Summit showed it was unlike typical forums by kicking off with a rally of music, dance and camaraderie that saw even weary motorists smiling and bopping their heads as they passed Freedom Corner in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.

That’s because the July 5 event really was a youth summit.

WATER OF LIFE—Jacquea Mae, of Sankofa, performs a West African libation ceremony at Freedom Corner with participants from the Aug. 5 Youth Empowerment Summit. (Photo by Rossano P. Stewart)

“This is their event. It’s about them having a say in their empowerment because grown-up ‘solutions’ didn’t solve anything,” said advisor Paradise Gray. “Everyone always tells them, ‘say no to this, say no to that.’ We wanted to help them have something to say ‘yes’ to.”

So when teens from South Side Families began dancing and rapping to their “Listen to the facts” jam, all were wearing shirts emblazoned with Y.E.S.—Youth Empowerment Summit.

Dancer AJ said for her, the summit was about getting to a place where she and her contemporaries didn’t have to worry about having a future or not.

“People need the right person telling them what they can do—not what they can’t,” she said. “I want to inspire people to go for it, to be determined.”

As more children and parents arrived, the music continued and more joined in with free styling and impromptu dance before everyone moved on to the Hill House Association for welcoming presentations, lunch and the workshops at the Kaufmann Auditorium.

Reggie Roberts from the Black Political Empowerment Projects, was impressed by the young people coming over and introducing themselves to him as they arrived, and thanked them for doing so.

Flurry B., one of the dancers, said that was just part of the togetherness he is striving to inspire.

“That’s what I want to come out of this,” he said. “We can’t be apart. We’ve still got a chance. I want unity. I want love.”

The music continued at the Kaufmann Auditorium with advisors and sponsors leading children in a West African call-and-response reinforcing the seven values of Kwanza. Then singer Jaquea May lead everyone in a version of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” before introducing keynote speaker Celeste Taylor from B-PEP.

Taylor, spoke of her inspirations growing up, chiefly her mother and her favorite teacher.

“He respected young people, and I want you to feel respected,” she said. “I want you to have a say in improving things.”

Taylor then thanked those in the audience who had submitted reports and petitions in support of Jordan Miles, saying they inspired her.

“To see this gathering of young people inspiring each other, inspires me,” she said. “This is where you can share the good times. Alice Walker said, ‘anything we love can be saved.’ Let’s build this movement with peace, justice, love and unity.”

Following her remarks, B-PEP Chair Tim Stevens presented her with a painting done by her brother Marlon as a surprise—and it was.

The children and older youth then split up to attend various workshops and classes including yoga, health and wellness, sexual awareness, history, employment and business, violence prevention, and family dynamics.

The summit concluded with entertainment by Gray and Penelope Howard and dinner at the Ujamaa Open Air Marketplace.

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