At first glance, the party that unfolded on Austin Town Hall Park’s front lawn on the warm, sunny afternoon of Sept. 9 was just another back-to-school party, with free food, loud music and local community organizations advertising their programs. Some of the residents that stopped by assumed as much.

But the I Love Austin Youth Showcase and Summit wasn’t quite that. The event was organized by the Austin Coming Together coalition as part of its effort to not only organize more activities for local youth, but to get them more involved in their communities. 

The teens who attended were able to attend workshops dealing with art, community organizing and self-improvement. ACT hopes that the young people will continue to be involved and engaged, and that the summit will become an annual event.

According to Darnell Shields, ACT’s executive director, the summit was a direct result of a July 29 community summit, which was designed to gather residents’ input on a quality-of-life plan for the community. 

Shields explained that one of the pieces of feedback the coalition got was that there needed to be more engagement with Austin youth. ACT decided to create an event that would do that – but that was created by the youth, for the youth.

To that end, they sought input from teens and young adults, many of whom were already involved with ACT. That included Jason Ware, an Austin High School student; local community organizer and youth mentor Albert Stinson; event planner Joy Heard; and Jose Abonce, a community organizer with ACT, among others.

Together, they recruited a number of Chicago dance troupes, including Move Me Soul youth dance company, M.A.D.D. Rhythms tap dancers and Happiness Club dancers. They also brought in rap/R&B artist VonyWayUp, Christian rapper Holly Grind and spoken word poet Goddess Warrior. King Ron the Poet served as the MC.

Most of the second half of the event was dedicated to workshops. Community Organizing 101 taught the basics of creating youth driven, community focused campaigns. The Art & Peace-Making workshop combined peace circle format discussion about what the participants love Austin and creating the artwork expressing their feels.

The Gaining Awareness 2 Nullify Genocide (G.A.N.G.) [sic] workshop, which was developed by Stinson, set out to make the youth aware of subconscious influences and self-destructive patterns that could lead them to making choices that hurt themselves and their community. 

“It was really about young people finding their voice alongside adults, so they understand what they want the community to look like,” Shields said. 

Abonce said that he hoped that the summit would be both fun and educational. 

“Hopefully, first of all, [youth will just have] a good time,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll come away with some sort of exposure, different type of skills they can get trained in [in the future], if they choose to.”

The summit featured a number of organizations from Austin and elsewhere. Vision Zero Chicago, a Chicago Department of Transportation initiative that works to improve traffic safety, was there to collect input from residents and promote the upcoming Sept. 30 community forum. Jane Addams Resource Corporation was there to promote free manufacturing training programs for low-income residents, which it runs out of Austin High School. 

City Bureau, a Woodlawn-based journalistic nonprofit which has worked with this newspaper in the past, was there to do its own job recruiting. Austin Food Co-Op, which formed in July 2017, was there to get its word out about its existence. 

“I think, overall, it’s just a good, positive event on the weekend,” Abonce said. “We need more events like this.”

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