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Saving My Voice

When I was asked–allowed–to untie my tongue in What’s the Story?, I began to understand that I was my own creator. I began to peel back my understandings of education and consider deeply what learning was. I worked for two years on multi-media campaigns exploring the experience of gender non-conforming students in Vermont middle in high schools. With that came an endless stream of events that have since changed my life.

We believe that meaningful civic engagement is an antidote to inequality, with rich potential to empower underrepresented and marginalized people and communities to raise their voices, claim space, influence decisions that affect them, and hold governments to account. In the current global order, civic space and civil society are both under threat. Our work is to help them thrive.Ford Foundation Civic Engagement and Government

The Bread Loaf Teacher Network's (BLTN) NextGen Network was launched in 2017, supported by a two-year grant from the Ford Foundation's Youth Opportunity and Learning Initiative that connected six BLTN diverse social action programs and brought underrepresented young people into the network as allies, thought leaders, community organizers, social media experts, collaborators - and writers.

This rich and multi-voiced collection of writing by ten young members of BLTN NextGen presents a picture of the Bread Loaf School of English, BLTN, and the NextGen network that is public, accessible, and an inspiration to all who value youth experiences, voice, and agency. A GOOD READ!

In 2017, Bread Loaf staff, faculty and BLTN teachers - informed by the observations and experiences of well-established outreach BLTN partnerships in Atlanta, Kentucky, South Carolina, the Navajo Nation, Larewnce, MA, and Vermont - had high expectations about the skills and knowledge that networked, marginalized rural and urban youth would bring to the BLTN NextGen table, we have learned much from their locally grounded social justice work. Their stories, art, and actions. Their questions, shared inquiries, and critiques. The process by which they helped form a "beloved community" that is BLTN NextGen.

We are grateful to the Ford Foundation and all who have supported BLTN NextGen with great generosity since 2017 and confident that the network will continue to evolve and thrive. Deepest thanks to NextGen youth whose stories and actions are defining "meaningful civic engagement" and "civil discourse" for us and others.

Dixie Goswami

Director, BLTN NextGen Leadership Network

I often reminisce about my first Bread Loaf summer in Asheville, 2007. Through writing and reflection, I began coming to terms with and overcoming some personal struggles. Through interacting with fellow teachers from all over the country, I stretched my own ideas about classroom pedagogy. And through informal and formal social gatherings--late night sessions while listening to dorm-mates strum guitars, barefoot ultimate frisbee battles, and class meals--I formed lasting friendships.

We worked hard and played hard. More importantly, many of us adult students--whether we knew it or not--were in the midst of taking positive steps to find and refine our voices. To be able to better express ourselves for positive personal, professional, and community transformation. To feel like what we had to write and say mattered.

I now see a similar transformative process playing out for young people engaged in the BLTN NextGen Leadership Network. Over the past two years, youth at NextGen’s six main sites--Lawrence (MA), Atlanta (GA), Louisville (KY), Vermont, the Navajo Nation, and Aiken (SC)-- have been granted the opportunity to engage in meaningful work that has the power to transform lives and positively impact communities. They’ve worked with adult mentors and educators affiliated with Bread Loaf to engage in a variety of activities, from attending conferences, to hosting family literacy nights, to making short films about issues of social importance. They too, are fully immersed in finding their voices in order to use them for the greater good.

While curating and editing student writing for this issue, common themes emerged, but one seems to stick out: Through NextGen-related experiences, youth participants have been empowered to not only reflect and explore their own place in the world, but to examine and take steps to address challenges in their respective home communities. Because NextGen is a network, these young people aren’t alone in their respective social action journeys--they lean on each other for refinement and support.

This issue’s contributors represent a range of levels of engagement with NextGen, which is fitting given the diverse cohort of students who have been found themselves immersed in this unique work. Most of our contributors attended the Hazhó'ó Hólne' Writing Conference, a March 2019 gathering on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, where adults and youth from all six NextGen sites (and more) wrote, reflected, and strategized together with hopes of continuing to connect and catalyze action in years to come.

Lastly, I thank BLTN NextGen Directors Dixie Goswami and Tom McKenna for the opportunity to serve as a guest editor for this issue. I hope readers are as inspired by these words and stories as I am.

Paul Barnwell

Guest Editor, Summer 2019

BLTN NextGen

Capable of Standing Up: Feeling Empowered to Create Change

During the car ride home, we Vermonters reflected on the immense strength and possibility of NextGen. The Hazhó’ó Hólne’ Writing Conference would shape our social action work in Vermont as well as our personal roles in our communities for the rest of our lives.

NextGen: A Home for Change

For the past few years my younger sister and I have been displaced, moving from house to house, never getting too comfortable or being too sure that we’d sleep in the same bed for more than a week. After being displaced again this past Christmas and feeling entirely alone with the weight of the world on my shoulders, I just mentally needed a place to go, a place where my situation didn’t exist, a place where I could be a kid—something I didn’t have the luxury of doing in my everyday life. I found that in NextGen.

A Journey between Four Sacred Mountains

As a group we all proposed ideas to stay in touch and ensure that NextGen survives. We owe that much to the youth that will come after us.

NextGen Louisville

Writing with Power: Finding Voice in NextGen

I’m also learning to use my voice to network and spread awareness about issues plaguing our communities. NextGen took me from a person who wanted to help to an activist who is creating positive change.

The Power of Surrounding Yourself with People Who Care

…BTLN NextGen challenged me to not become a better me but to bring out the best of me and to use that and pour it back into my community and the world.

NextGen La Casa Roja

So Much to Fight For, So Much to Change

Today, being not only a global citizen, but also a student, I realize that I have a moral responsibility towards the environment and communities. It is the youth of today that are going to bear the consequences of the actions of today. It is our duty to ensure that our actions only do well to the environment and communities and do not cause any more harm than what is already done. As the young generation, our voice matters. Our words are starting to matter.

Reaching New Distances: A Navajo Perspective on NextGen

Throughout the whole year, I attended at least two more conferences out of state in Vermont and Massachusetts. It was an amazing opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and communicate with others and make friends. Being able to talk about our Navajo culture in front of people from other sites was also great way to share my own perspective and experience.

NextGen South Carolina

Local Challenges and a Better World

I was finally able to see what and how I could help my community. I have been able to help kids with schoolwork and show them why school is important. I have helped to lead family literacy nights with my group to show people that even though we might not all look alike we can have the same goal.

Hozho'o' Hólne'

Power in Vulnerability

Thanks to the conference, I realized it’s ok for me to be vulnerable with myself, and that the voice of the youth matters. Interacting with the individuals from NextGen really opened my eyes to how big of an impact the youth has on their communities, from bringing families together to write, to showing the importance of monumental institutions like Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, to strengthening the voice of the youth from the LGBTQ community. People really overlook how important it is for the voice of the youth to be heard.

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