Youth takes action: Bringing the conference home

BY: Flor DeMaria Olivo

Across the nation university enrollment and completion for communities of color is on the rise. According to US Census data, “the number of Hispanics with doctorates jumped 161 percent from 1990 to 2010.” Some say these advances are the result of years of community work and even then the disparities remain. 

Isaac Giron, local activist and U of U student, says, “We have progressed as communities because we desire to achieve and grow, but we still have a long way to go.” In Utah several youth organizations are working to continue bridging gaps. 

These students have decided to take their educational future into their own hands and have joined national efforts to maintain momentum.  Mestizo Arts and Activism, the FACE Movement, the Salt Lake City Brown Berets and the Venceremos Student Newspaper are only some of the organizations that have joined this movement. The University of Utah (U of U) is linked to a number of them.

Students, educators and activists come together to build community and plan the national FMFP conference.

This summer these groups, along with others, gathered to welcome the Free Minds Free People national planning committee which has chosen Salt Lake City as their host city for their 2013 conference. A planning retreat took place in the Glendale community of Salt Lake City where about 30 activist from Chicago, New York, Tucson, California and other states came together to plan the upcoming event. 

The FMFP conference is a project of the Education for Liberation (EdforLib) organization based out of Chicago, Illinois. This parent organization works to educate, inspire and promote education for all students, including those in underrepresented communities and communities of color in the United States. 

Tara Mack, the founder of the Education for Liberation, says, “the EdforLib network aims to improve education by bringing people together to learn from other’s experiences. We build alliances that cross boundaries of geography, occupation and age in hope of nurturing communities of thoughtful, socially engaged people.” 

Mack has been the main organizer for the FMFP conference since 2007.

Last month the conference announcement was kicked off nationally by Voices in Urban Education (VUE), a quarterly journal published by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, where the purpose of the conference was highlighted. 

Educators, students and allies shared their meaning for EdforLib. “We seek to understand, frame, and practice education for the purpose of freedom – a true collective realization of liberty and justice for all,” said Keith Catone, a veteran high school teacher and now senior research associate with the Annenberg Institute.  

For educators like Curtis Acosta, a high school teacher in Tucson New Mexico, the meaning is slightly different. 

Acosta said, “ for those of us who have struggled to save ethnic studies and Mexican American Studies (MAS) in Tucson, these occurrences have become a part of a beautiful tradition of education for liberation that is handed from one cohort of students to another and will change our community forever.”

One of Acosta’s students shared her experience in his class, saying, “in forty minutes I felt more empowered and educated than I had in all ten previous years in school.” 

These experiences are exactly what the Salt Lake City local team wants to bring to their communities. As visitors sign up for workshops, presentations and panel discussions the local group prepares to also showcase their local activism groups. 

Salt Lake City Brown Beret members interact with other organizers during planning retreat.

Alonso Reyna, a U of U student and local organizers, says, “we are excited to host this event here. We will learn a lot but we will also be able to showcase the work we do in our communities.” 

Reyna is one of the facilitators for Mestizo Arts and Activism and also runs the Educate Blog, which provides educational resources for undocumented students. 

Ashley Edgette, facilitator for the FMFP National Committee and also a U of U student says, “I am excited to share struggles and hear about everybody’s organizing.” 

Edgette is building up the neighborhood garden she co-facilitates at a local elementary school close to downtown Salt Lake City where students, parents and volunteers nurture community through gardening. She plans to present on her work and experience. 

Local high school students aren’t far behind as their enthusiasm resounds. Chelsey and Sheila who both attend Kearns High School and are participants of the Face Movement organization, encourage people to come out to Salt Lake City. “We hear that everyone really liked the workshop our mentors presented at the Houston conference, the workshops here will be just as great.” 

The FMFP conference has a history in Salt Lake City as local professors and teachers, such as Caitlin Cahill, David Quijada and the late Matthew W. Bradley, have encouraged and provided the means for many students to attend these conferences nationally. 

According to Cahill, in 2007 a handful of students attended the first conference in Chicago. Two years after that, in the summer of 2009, a group of 50 or more students, educators and activists raised funds to rent a charter bus that took them to the Houston conference and back.

Many of these students have become mentors, teachers, professors and professionals and they are bringing the conference home to their students, families and communities. The support and enthusiasm is now in working to make the conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, a success,” says Giron. 


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