BLTN NextGen Leadership Network Launched

Jan 16th, 2018 | By | Category: BLTN NextGen, Featured, Winter 2018

“Let’s think for a moment . . .

What are we doing here? We are vivid and unbridled thinkers with innovative ideas and passions. So, we must be here to create something? Establish a network of some fashion?

Maybe we are here to build a social network, a beautiful machine with cranks and levers engineered with our minds and powered by our imagination. This could be the foundation of a collective that will one day create something greater than itself. But then what?”

Robbie Spencer, a senior at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky, captured the spirit of invention when youth from six sites across the nation gathered at Bread Loaf Vermont to launch the BLTN NextGen Leadership Network, a special project funded by a major grant from the Ford Foundation’s Youth Opportunity and Leadership program. As Lynda Flynn notes in the Bread Loaf School of English Fall Newsletter, “The grant supports the Bread Loaf Teacher Network Next Generation Leadership Network (BLTN NextGen), a network that will provide learning and leadership opportunities for a diverse cohort of talented youth from Lawrence, Massachusetts; Louisville, Kentucky; Vermont; rural South Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia; and the Navajo Nation. ‘Like other BLTN initiatives,’ says BLTN director Beverly Moss, ‘NextGen seeks to make visible the valuable resources, critical thinking, and leadership young people bring to their home communities and this country.'”

Ford Foundation Program Officer, Douglas Wood, who attended the summer launch, spoke of the NextGen Leadership Network youth as “the most diverse group of young people in our current portfolio.” Wood, a 1997 Bread Loaf alumnus and a foundational teacher leader in the Bread Loaf Teacher Network commented, “We gathered here to learn from each other, to collect our stories, to share our histories, and to form a powerful network of strong youth leaders.”

Youth leaders and mentors have since done much to answer Robbie’s “But then what?” by visiting one another’s sites, videoconferencing together, forming a youth-led steering committee, and presenting at conferences like NCTE’s annual convention in St. Louis and the Southern Education Foundation 150th Anniversary convening in Atlanta.

Ed Dooley of Mad River Media tells the story of the BLTN Next Gen launch in this video.

Lillian Reeves, mentor for the South Carolina NextGen social action team, describes the November presentations in a post on the NextGen blog. “First and foremost,” writes Reeves, “our youth leaders and mentors literally got a front row seat to hear, see, and participate in the dialogues that equity thought leaders are engaging in as they and we tackle, problematize, and protect public education in this country.”

“What is Advocacy Literacy?” BLTN NextGen leaders took on this question during an August, 2017 Twitter chat. Click on the image above to see a summary of the discussion.

BLTN NextGen youth will next convene in March at the Navajo Nation for Youth Leadership Retreat with the theme, “Food for Body, Mind, and Spirit.” The event is being organized by Zunneh-bah Martin, co-director of BLTN NextGen La Casa Roja, and Navajo BLTN youth leaders, supported by BLTN NextGen, Andover Bread Loaf, the Navajo Community Health Outreach (NCHO), and the Bread Loaf School of English.

Following the March retreat, BLTN NextGen, sponsored by the Ford Foundation’s Youth Opportunity and Learning initiative, will meet June 28-30, 2018, at the Bread Loaf School of English (Ripton, Vermont) and Middlebury College campuses to celebrate and reflect on the initial year’s accomplishments and challenges. The focus will be on the ways vulnerable and marginalized youth as members of diverse, networked BLTN social action teams are a force for progress and positive social change in their families, communities, and the world, bringing to the table undervalued skills, competencies, and perspectives that are crucially important in present times. BLTN NextGen youth, along with community mentors, will serve as conference organizers, thought leaders, and presenters at the March 2018 and June 2018 events, bringing the next chapters in Spencer’s vision of a collective becoming ever greater and more powerful.

BLTN NextGen’s next step is to form a Youth Opportunity and Leadership Participatory Action Research (P.A.R.) program that will prepare and engage BLTN NextGens across ages, roles, and geographic and demographic situations to examine, analyze,and interpret the acquisition and use of literacy in the context of their participation in the network.  According to BLTN NextGen Director Dixie Goswami, “This PAR will be widely and freely accessible at all stages, inviting comment and inquiry, and having consequences, one of which is to bring youth into the research community to provide families and community leaders with a narrative that will change public awareness about the competencies, passions, and skills of NextGen youth. The intention is for BLTN NextGen PAR to serve as a resource to the Youth Opportunity and Leadership movement.”

Images from the summer BLTN NextGen launch, courtesy of Teddy Anderson, Middlebury College Office of Advancement.

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