BLTN NextGen: Learning and Growing in Community Spaces

Jun 3rd, 2022 | By | Category: BLTN NextGen, Featured, Spring / Summer 2022

Once again this year, the BLTN NextGen Youth Advisory Board (YAB) led cross-network planning for the network as a whole. In March of this year, following last year’s successful cross-site virtual writing conference, “A Day in the Pandemic,” the YAB convened youth and adult participants from across the nation to write together under the theme “Growing Up and Letting Go.”

This year we were graced by poet and cultural worker Amaryllis Lopez, a founding member of NextGen, who returned as our guest artist.

A clip from the conference capturing Amaryllis Lopez’ guest artist performance, and a poem by Youth Advisory Board member Gladdys Jiminian in response. Moderation by Faith Omosefe. YAB Co-chair.

Another cross-network highlight this year was the convening of NextGen alums–young people currently either in college or in the workplace–who variously shared ways NextGen has remained a family and a home for them. The gathering was orchestrated by Lena Ashooh of Vermont and Harvard University.

NextGen alums gathered in late April to share experiences and discuss ways to stay connected.

Here are highlights of work by each site over the course of another challenging and equally productive year at the BLTN NextGen sites.

“I joined NextGen because I wanted to be a part of something that I knew would make an impact on not only my community but my personal growth while spending time around like-minded and caring individuals. To me NextGen means being a part of a process that you know will have life-changing and inspiring outcomes for others.” —Erica Brown



What’s the Story? The Vermont Young People Social Action Team (WTS VT) is in the throes of its eighth year of engaging youth about social action topics that they choose, inviting them to investigate those issues and impacts through film, and then composing a meaning-making video documentary. This year, WTS VT has leaned into the constraints of the pandemic and leveraged moving online to connect across differences and distances. We have included Vermont students as well as students from Aiken, SC; Chelsea, MA; and Santa Fe, NM. At the end of April, youth-leaders from Chelsea, MA joined those from Vermont for their monthly workshop  while virtually including the other sites. We will all convene in Vermont during the first weekend in June to showcase youth films and to help continue to deepen the connections that have been made this year. —Tim O’Leary, What’s the Story? Vermont Co-Director

The Chelsea cohort gathered outside Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, VT

“I love being a part of NextGen because I believe change is going to come through this organization. As you grow older and the world lands on your shoulders you see a repeat of history…. In NextGen we aren’t trying to turn the hands of history around but make this society and world a better place. NextGen sees the reality of this world and wants change for the next generations to come. It feels empowering to know that we can make a change in this world and I’m excited to see how the world will be impacted.  Next Generation reminds me of a song called ‘Waiting On The World To Change’ by John Mayer and one day this world will change right before our eyes.  NextGen means to me not waiting on the world to change, but bringing the change to the world.” —Jabrasia Corley



This year in Lawrence, we began the school year by focusing on healthy habits with COVID-19 cases constantly rising and decreasing. We were able to distribute healthy packages to students and writing leaders with proper protective gear. These packages included various masks, cleaning products, and hand sanitizers. Since we were back to in-person workshops and events, it was important to keep our youth safe at these events. Our focus then shifted to recruitment for the upcoming school year. Currently, we are partnering with the Lawrence High School’s writing club and Andover Bread Loaf to recruit NextGen youth and have a space for our youth to meet. Our next focus is planning a fall conference and inviting NextGen youth from all sites to the Lawrence site. We look forward to seeing everyone in person again! —Jackie Schierembergg, Lawrence Site Mentor and Director of the Andover Bread Loaf BLTN NextGen Health Alliance

“After I went to one meeting and that one meeting turned into even more I became genuinely intrigued by this program. I am now in NextGen to not only give me and my peers a voice but to help them out mentally and emotionally. There is always room for change and this program gives me hope that some day that change will come because of me and my peers.”—Alvin Monté Curry



This year, the students of BLTN NextGen Louisville have focused on developing Outdoor Learning and Lending Spaces. Their goal is to have an outdoor learning space at each of the more than one hundred schools in the Jefferson County Public Schools district. The students have used the United Nations Sustainability Goals as a guide for their work. The spaces will serve as outdoor classrooms, food resources, native plant habitats, and lending houses designed to meet the needs of individual communities. For example, one of the lending houses at Fern Creek High School will be a food bank that is stocked by our Dare to Care resource center. The students identified this as a priority in our community based on the number of homeless people living in woods within two blocks of our school. Another school has asked for a lending house to provide books for families who often walk past their building on the way to a local playground. The Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio Regional Carpenters Council has partnered with us and donated the manpower to create either a lending house or a raised bed at each school! They also provided the materials for the first several lending houses to help us get started.

On March 24-27, 2022, Dr. Hostetler and two NextGen students from Aiken, South Carolina came to Louisville. They visited Brent Peters’ Food Literacy classes, Lauren Niemann’s Ecology class, had dinner with Dr. Beverly Moss, and spent time visiting and brainstorming with Louisville NextGen students. Both groups also toured the Muhammad Ali Center to learn of and be inspired by his humanitarian efforts throughout the years. 

Louisville and Aiken youth together

While discussing the concerns at both sites, the students determined that the key issue behind each concern is poverty. They have decided they would like to work together to create community events (or embed an anti-poverty focus into current community events) and have critical resource information available. For example, they could either host a farmer’s market or work with a local farmer’s market and have specific booths at the event. The booths would feature information about mental health resources, health resources, addiction treatment options, government assistance application processes, employment opportunities (local unions/apprenticeship programs), and voter registration tables. 

The two groups would like to host these community resource events in their own communities, then work with other BLTN NextGen sites to help them host events in their areas. The students from the two sites are also going to present about their work at the South Carolina Teachers of English conference in January, 2023. This will allow them to share their experiences and message with teachers from across the state of South Carolina. 

South Carolina (Aiken)

Aiken Next Generation has been very busy this academic school year. At the beginning of the school year, with support from Write to Change and in collaboration with Clemson University, Aiken High School NextGen students created Social Emotional Learning workshops (both digital and in-person) for teachers and peers. Youth presented the workshops several times to teachers within the district and at the state level. Erica Brown served as a youth representative in a podcast by the Center for the Education and Equity of African American Students (CEEAAS), where she also led a session at the annual conference, as one of the only student speakers, on the importance of play in the classroom. Monté Curry served as a youth representative on a National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) back-to-school live feed, where he shared his perspectives on education. NextGen Aiken youth volunteered at community events such as Hopelands Gardens Christmas program, homeless shelters, and youth programs throughout the county. They attended the NCTE conference virtually, where their work was featured in a digital session with Kentucky students.

Dixie Goswami, Director Emerita of BLTN NextGen and founder of Write to Change meets with NextGen SC youth. Write to Change is a major partner for BLTN NextGen SC.

Aiken NexGen youth have stocked lending libraries across the community and continue to build more. They have traveled to Louisville in a cross-site collaboration to work with Kentucky youth on future projects. They have worked with mural artist Markus Tracy to create a temporary sidewalk art exhibit in Aiken and they attended the Special Olympics competition in Aiken County, where they set up necklace making, water painting, and had a basket weaving demonstration for participants. They have also hosted several digital and in-person family literacy nights throughout the year. As we go to press, our youth are currently relying on the wisdom of community elders to finish their memorial garden for lost Aiken High students throughout the last few years.

Finally, youth have been working all year on their What’s the Story? documentary on gun violence and hope within the community. They are continuing to work through the summer to create a mural for the memorial garden, plan and implement a community resource fair for the fall, work with the traveling Voices of Democracy exhibit in Aiken, serve as guest speakers at the Aiken Center for the Arts in June, and create a mentoring program with a local elementary school next school year. The beauty of so many of these events has been the cross-generational and cross-geographical collaborations. —Kayla Hostetler, NextGen SC Site Mentor

I joined NextGen because I wanted to be a part of something that reflected who as I am as a person. Having myself and others who care about the future and safety of us and our families was a keen factor. To Me NextGen means being a part of something that is going to give me opportunity and change for a better future.—Anajaé Curry



These Halls Can Talk has focused this year on interviewing Booker T. Washington High School’s centenarians to compose a book that vividly tells the story of Washington in its first one hundred years (September 2024 will be the centennial). Students are conducting research on the history of the school and are collecting archival footage for community service hours. Those students are demanding to continue working on the project into next year. These Halls Can Talk interviewed two former Washington students who were selected to be a part of the first group to integrate Atlanta Public Schools. In this five-part series, Ms. Madelyn Nix and Mr. Thomas Welch shared their stories of their experience desegregating J.E. Brown High School.

Meanwhile, we collaborated with Booker T. Washington High School’s Student Government Association to create a list of students who were highlighted for Black History Month. We have also collaborated with the BTW Class of 1963 to provide book scholarships to two graduating seniors. —Shaleisa Brewer, NextGen ATL Site Mentor

Santa Fe Indian School (SFIS)

This year in Santa Fe, students at SFIS focused on two major components of their NextGen participation, preparing and presenting unique writing workshops to the public and SFIS family networks, and creating a film in collaboration with What’s The Story? Vermont. Our Youth Advisory Board members grew throughout the year, and their participation solidified as they networked with other sites. In January, our membership stabilized and we were able to put a lot of work into creating our own film through WTS, focusing on bringing awareness to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. That is an ongoing project that will debut in Burlington, VT on June 4th. Also, it was not just our NextGen students who helped with our quarterly writing workshops. Current and BLTN alum teachers galvanized their students into action to create meaningful writing activities to be conducted over Zoom. These four writing workshops touched on many themes under the umbrella of “Better Together” with writing and sharing at the core of them all. The SFIS Writing Center, modeled after the writing centers at each of the BLSE campuses, helped students find meaning on paper, in presentations, and on film. We are currently looking forward to planning bigger and better projects with increased funding and renewed membership in the new school year! -Michael Martinez, SFIS Site Mentor with Susan Miera, SFIS Writing Center Director

La Casa Roja (Navajo Nation)

La Casa Roja NextGen has been working on a project that connects youth leaders with elders for the purpose of learning the impact COVID-19 has had on the Navajo community. We met with quite a few obstacles due to the pandemic, but the work continued. In August of 2021, we were able to meet together at the Dine College campus in Crownpoint, AZ.  We were joined by two professors from the college who spoke to us about how traditional stories can be applied to contemporary issues and how traditional medicine can be used to help heal emotional trauma incurred by events such as COVID.  Recently, Ra Spencer, NextGen youth leader from Kentucky, led a workshop on turning raw footage into a manageable video. 

Many of our youth leaders have grown out of the classroom, but remain in touch!  This year has been a significant one as many youth leaders have graduated. Ty Fierce Metteba earned a Master’s in Public Health; Teva Castillo earned an associate’s in Early Childhood Education; and Nizhoni-bah Martin earned her high school diploma from Tohatchi High School and an associate’s degree simultaneously.  We are quite proud of the successes of La Casa Roja youth leaders. —Ceci Lewis, La Casa Roja Site Mentor

“NextGen means being able to take action, stepping out of my comfort zone, and inspiring others to help our community thrive.” —Ta’Von Mills


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