Lawrence Youth Council: Lou Bernieri Keynote Address

Nov 24th, 2016 | By | Category: BLTN and Policy, BLTN Teachers, Fall 2016

Lou at BLLou Bernieri
Andover Bread Loaf Director
BLSE ’80; Honorary Doctorate ’16
Lawrence, MA

Address to the Lawrence Youth Council
El Taller, Lawrence, MA

I’m honored to have the privilege to talk with you tonight. Thank you for asking me.

A shout out to Marquis Victor of Elevated Thought, Lawrence Youth Council (LYC)’s coordinator, who is providing youth advocates in Lawrence with new ways to work together with youth to help make their voices heard while nurturing their idealism and commitment to social change in Lawrence. And to Vilma Martinez Dominguez and Elecia Miller who worked tirelessly for several years to make the LYC a reality.

In his inaugural speech as Mayor of Lawrence, Dan Rivera pledged to honor the sacrifices of immigrants–- of the Italians, Irish, Polish and others during the 1800s and 1900s and of the Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Central Americans and others of more recent decades. He noted that great progress in Lawrence has always come at the hands of individuals and community groups that have taken bold and fearless actions. He asked us to imagine Lawrence becoming once again, after so many years and struggles, a place of “bests” that other communities could look to for ways and reasons to work together for the common good.

I think it’s more than fair to say that Lawrence is gaining a local, statewide, and national reputation for being the BEST at providing young people with opportunities for learning, civic engagement, and free, creative expression. I think it’s also fair to say that Lawrence youth “have taken bold, fearless actions” to make Lawrence a place other communities look to for guidance. While locally, Lawrence youth are subject to the racism and classism of the mainstream media and others, it’s a far different story outside the city. Those of you who know ABL, know that teachers and professors from all over the country and from the world who are part of our network tell us again and again that there is something different, something special about youth from Lawrence. It is Lawrence youth who show these teachers and professors how to believe in the youth they work with.

We’re here tonight to celebrate and support one of Mayor Rivera’s bold and creative actions: Established in 2014 the Lawrence Youth Council seeks to “have the voices of Lawrence youth heard and their interests represented by youth themselves.” The Mayor’s Health Task Force has acted on a belief that’s powered the Andover Bread Loaf’s work as well: Young people are resources to be developed, not problems to be solved. Youth are effective, essential allies and advocates for reducing inequality and solving problems in their schools and  communities.

I want to focus briefly and a few things the LYC has done. Over the past two years they’ve been the driving force in the “What Is Education?” campaign. Using action research as a tool, they have gathered data from students and teachers about what young people think and feel about their education. They have produced videos and documents that have inspired an ongoing city-wide dialogue about the schools and the pedagogies used in them. They have organized events where adults and youth discuss educational theory and practice. And perhaps most importantly, they have worked with teachers and youth workers to develop alternative methods and pedagogies that can be used to change the nature of education in Lawrence and beyond.

Last year the LYC worked with Elevated Thought, Andover Bread Loaf and a dozen other organizations to produce and run a city-wide conference at the BGCL that addressed the question of their campaign: WHAT IS EDUCATION? The success of that conference inspired another conference this year on Nov 5, once again at the BGCL. In the past month, LYC members have worked with teachers and youth workers to co-produce this second city-wide conference, inviting middle and high school youth, teachers and youth workers and parents to join the conversation. The title they chose is: THIS IS EDUCATION: LIBERATION THROUGH CREATIVITY.   This conference reaches even further than the last to offer empowering educational models for classrooms and community organizations.

I want to stop for a moment and point out what this means. In a national educational culture where students are never even asked what they think and feel about education, Lawrence youth are not only speaking out and being heard but are recreating education in ways that influence teachers and students in Lawrence and far beyond. This conference is a perfect example, as teachers and students from Randolph, Lowell and NYC are coming to it to learn what Lawrence youth have created.

As I see it from 30 years of work in the city, LYC is not alone in their work. They are a major part of an unprecedented social movement among young people in the city, a movement that is transforming Lawrence through the arts, education, and civic activism.

In the educational arena, over the past several years, Lawrence youth leaders have created, organized, assisted and run numerous workshops and programs in schools and community organizations throughout the city. This past summer, when the nation was rocked by the trauma of persistent violence and injustice, rather than succumb to anger or despair, Lawrence youth leaders organized and staffed more than half a dozen programs that reached several hundred youth. These, programs used writing, free, creative expression, shared inquiry, and “collective genius” to address the violence and to move beyond it, to inspire other youth to discover their voices and develop their strengths as teachers, learners and advocates for peace and equity.

Through the reach of Andover Bread Loaf, Lawrence youth influence education in over seven states and six countries, including NYC, Boston, Lowell, New Orleans, Randolph, Mumbai, Nairobi, Karachi, Port-au-Prince, San Salvador and the Navajo Nation. Go to an ABL site at any of these locations and you’ll see

Moreover, Lawrence youth leaders have taught classes from kindergarten through graduate school. They’ve made presentations at national educational research conferences, have offered professional development workshops for teachers and youth workers, and have served as invaluable consultants to teachers and organizations. This spring, members of the LYC and of Elevated Thought’s CCC program will make their second trip in four years to the Department of Education in Washington DC, invited to talk with the US Assistant Secretary of Education (perhaps even the secretary) to voice their ideas about their education.

Rather than just talk about these amazing youth, I want to show the kind of work they do. Amaryllis Lily Lopez graduated from LHS last spring and is a freshman at Bridgewater State College. Lily was a Bread Loaf Writing leader and staff member for several years and last year served as the Elevated Thought Intern, teaching their CCC classes and helping to guide the LYC through their What Is Educationcampaign. The video I’m about to show was co-produced by Lily and Elevated Thought and its her poem  you’ll hear her read.

The poem and video go to the heart of much of what the LYC and Lawrence youth leaders are doing. Not only are they agents of change in the educational world, they are also creating cultural and social change. The poem reclaims the narrative of Lawrence that outsiders and the mainstream media have twisted. For Lily, Lawrence is a place beauty, art, activism, and youth leadership and the Lawrence community is THE major resource for personal growth, educational reform and social equity.

Lily’s plan is to get her college and master’s degree and come back to Lawrence to teach, a plan she shares with many Lawrence youth these days.

We gain courage and inspiration from the images, words, and understanding of Lawrence youth as we see them through the efforts of leaders like Lily and the Lawrence Youth Council. They are living examples of Lawrence young people as thought leaders, and effective, compassionate advocates. Their work has been vital in changing the narrative about Lawrence as a struggling city to Lawrence as a “City of Promise.”

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