Navajo Youth Share Advocacy Work at Vermont Campus

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

Navajo Youth Leaders for Community Health and Social Change (NCHO) visit Bread Loaf Vermont July 2016

Building from the work that began at Fern Creek High School in Louisville KY in 2012 with Bread Loaf’s Brent Peters (MA ’16) and Joe Franzen’s food studies program, and Paul Barnwell’s (MA  ’13) digital curriculum, work that came to form the Navajo Kentuckians,  BLTN has moved with its partners in intentional ways to influence policy and enact social change through networked liberal arts education. An example of BLTN work along these lines is the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) project, a BLTN/COPE partnership that includes Dr. Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health (, and funded in 2014 by a grant from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Rex Lee Jim (MA ’01; M.Litt. candidate), NCHO director, works closely with Dr. Sonya Shin, founder and director of Harvard’s Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment (COPE) coalition, and Bread Loaf’s NCHO team. We’re learning with and from each other about challenges, constraints, resources and possibilities of our networked partnership. (Bread Loaf is one of the “national partner” organizations described in the award announcement.) Dr. Shin, speaking about Navajo community outreach, noted that young people were being involved as change agents, leaders, and sources of understanding and insight. She voiced her hope that they would serve as a model and guide for Partners in Health’s international programs, using visual exchanges, internships, and visits to international conferences to connect. NCHO director Rex Lee Jim, emphasized the role of the young people: “In this program to improve the quality of life on the Navajo Nation, they will use their talent and energy to make a difference. Their passionate commitment to positive change will be a great asset.” Shel Sax, Bread Loaf’s Director of Technology,  added, “They will use electronic and print technologies to document and publicly voice their ideas, knowledge, and concerns regarding an important issue in their lives.” Members of the Bread Loaf NCHO team include Emily Bartels, Rex Lee Jim, Ceci Lewis, Damian Baca, Tom McKenna, Dana Olsen, Tim O’Leary,Dixie Goswami, and Shel Sax. Evelyn Begody (BL MA; M.Litt. candidate; founding member of the Bread Loaf Tutal Teacher Network), whose Food Literacy course at Window Rock High School has contributed much to NCHO, was part of the Bread Loaf NCHO team for two years.

The Second Annual Visit of NCHO youth leaders to Bread Loaf Vermont took place July 12-17, 2016. Christian Brown (Yale Climate and Energy Center; COPE Research Associate) traveled with the NCHO group from New Mexico to Ripton. Evelyn Begody mentored the visiting NCHO Youth Leaders: Tahj Moore, Cody Morgan, Sybil Casilac, Kimberly Billie, Taylor Abatsa, and Dewight Leupp. NCHO/COPE director Carissa Brownotter, who was a participant in the visiting 2016 Andover Bread Loaf Writing Workshop, along with Katie McKenna from Juneau, AK, and Ben Freedman (Middlebury College; Bread Loaf) were part of the NCHO/Bread Loaf group.

The NCHO youth leaders, plus Chris Brown, and Carissa Brownotter, contributed in the deepest and most significant ways to BLTN 2016. Here are some highlights of their week in Ripton: Middlebury College tour led by Matt Fiorentino and Ben Freedman; Writing Workshop with Chantal Kenol-Desmornes (BL ’15), David Wandera, Yulissa Nunez; Oskar Eustis workshop: “Hip Hop, Shakespeare, and Social Justice”; Writing workshop with Ceci Lewis, Ummi Modeste, and ABL young writing leaders; visits to several BLSE classes, including John Elder’s Writing and Acting for Change session on environmental justice, to which they were important contributors. Finally, all NCHOs spoke, with ABL youth leaders, at the July 9 BLTN-sponsored session on advocacy in action in the Barn, to a large and enthusiastic audience. The NCHO visitors brought much to Bread Loaf: insights, perspectives, and powerful voices for reducing inequality in the face of struggle and promoting mutual respect across difference. Several NCHO youth leaders were part of a 2016 NCTE Atlanta Session chaired by Damian Baca, Cody Morgan accompanied Rex and Ceci Lewis to launch “Stories Walking: Workshop for Indigenous Writers”; others are working with Lou Bernieri and Rich Gorham to connect ABL and NCHO; a third NCHO visit to Bread Loaf Vermont is being planned for 2017. We are grateful for this networked partnership with the Navajo Community Health Outreach youth leaders, COPE, Partners in Health, and for the Bread Loaf NCHO team.

-Professor Dixie Goswami

Below are two video from presentations by youth leader Taylor Abasta, a senior at Window Rock High School in Fort Defiance, Arizona. About the experience of visiting, presenting, and performing, Abasta comments, “I chose both of those pieces mainly because they represent little pieces of history in our culture that white civilization has forgotten about. And honestly, we’ve been through a lot of mistreatment, poverty, and a lot of problems that have gone down on the reservation. Those are just little glimpses of what our ancestors had to go through, and what we still face today as a nation. As for being back on the Bread Loaf campus, I was there the previous summer when not a lot of people knew that I did music on the side. I was a real good experience. I’m glad that I’m around poets themselves and people who are in their own writing categories, who understand these kinds of concepts… on a much higher scale….”


In addition to attending classes and giving presentations on their work, the NCHO visitors met with Oskar Eustis, whom the New York Times calls “arguably the most admired theater executive in the country,” for a discussion of hip hop. Sitting on the floor of a cottage on the Bread Loaf campus,  Mr. Eustis played tracks on his phone from the Broadway sensation Hamilton, and talked with the youth activists about hip hop as our modern Shakespeare. Mr. Eustis shared his dream, as artistic director of New York’s Public Theater, to give youth around the nation free access to Hamilton.

Learn more about the NCHO work via their Facebook page , Twitter account (@nchoyouth ), via  or the Bread Loaf Teacher Network working site.


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