Image by Pete Railand from Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative for Critical Resistance

by Desta Cantave, 15F

The Transforming Education for Social Justice Conference, a conference for people across Western Massachusetts who are interested in social justice and equality in K-12 schools, was such a privilege to get to experience. The main programing event was in English and Spanish, and the students learned their introductions in both. The conference started by not only honoring the land we were standing on and the Indigenous folks it belongs to, but also spent time sharing why it’s important to address that in the context of education and social justice. The workshop sessions were run by both adult allies and youth leaders, who worked together to organize, facilitate, and create an incredible day. Ethics and the Common Good supported Justin, Jules, and I to facilitate a story circle workshop called “Stories of Connection: From Youth Oppression to Youth Empowerment.” When we first came to the conference during the opening keynote, there seemed to be an overwhelming number of adults compared to youths in the room, but we were glad to have our workshop filled with a lot of amazing young people and a few of their adult allies in the room for our story session. Everyone had powerful stories to share, and it felt amazing to be a part of. I hope to get to do more relational work alongside my fellow youths, and youths who are younger than me.

In the morning before our workshop was an anxious time for me! I was nervous about doing story circles in a really big space, and how to make sure that we were able to have vulnerability and intimacy in the large auditorium. What was so special for me was that my co-facilitators and other supporters from ECG came together to make the space nice and cozy, so that we could share in a circle and be together. Still I was nervous, more nervous than I usually am before facilitating. But Justin, Jules, and I found a flow, and things started going really well. In the beginning of the workshop we had around 10 participants, but more and more kept filtering in and we ended up with a group of 27, which ended up being just right. As newcomers arrived, Javiera and Maya supported us by gathering chairs from around Easthampton High School to accommodate everyone. Before the workshop I thought that between Justin, Jules, and I, we wouldn’t need any logistical help, but the workshop would not have been as smooth as it was without the extra support.

During my model story, the workshop, full of brand new resonators, gave so much resonance — and many of the moments of resonance were followed by a chorus of “me too!” The workshop felt short and we had to work hard to get through all our material but the group stayed with us and were willing to jump into trying out new things. Some of the story circles were already established groups who had come to the conference, while other groups were made up of strangers. At the end, everyone seemed to come out of the workshop having learned something. When we shared our takeaways, the feeling of support was so rich.

In this facilitation opportunity, I got to experience being vulnerable alongside the participants in a new way. In the beginning, I was so nervous it almost felt like telling a story for the first time. But by the end of the workshop I felt held and supported, and realized that no matter how big the world is I can still find a cozy little space to be with others. After the workshop, my co-facilitators and I walked around Easthampton, exploring a tarot shop, a sweet shop, taking selfies, and slipping on ice. We got to bond as a group of people that work alongside each other all the time, and enjoy being together in a different way.

When we came back for the afternoon workshops, a few of our group attended a workshop that didn’t feel as generative as earlier and actually became traumatic. Noticing this, and feeling grounded from our earlier story circles, I felt able to step away from my own workshop and be there for them as we processed the experience together. It was really beautiful to see how we all showed up and supported one another throughout that day. I’m so grateful to have gotten to attend the Transforming Education for Social Justice Conference.

Desta is a student of Africana Studies, Studio Art, and Philosophy. They dream of becoming a skilled facilitator/storyteller/doula/quilter, and are currently working to build each of these practices in both their academic and personal pursuits.

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