The Honeycomb Retreat: Centering the Voices of Youth Survivors, Advocates, and Activists

In this past year, we have been able to witness the inherent power that young people possess. It was young people who led and organized marches to honor and demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, and other victims of police violence and the carceral state. It was young people who came together to meet the needs of their community by creating mutual aid funds and community fridges. And it will continue to be young people who dare to imagine futures free from violence. Youth have been at the forefront of movements throughout history and willing to challenge the institutionalized oppressive systems that have existed as the status quo, whether that be Black students at the Soweto Uprisings in 1976 or the young people with disabilities occupying San Francisco City Hall in 1977. For so long, young people have been denied space and time to tap into their ability to make social change. To treat young folks with empathy, compassion, and the right to self-determination could even be considered a radical act.  

At the Action Alliance, we are rooted in the belief that young people are the experts of their own experience. Young people are survivors. They are advocates. They are activists. The movement against sexual and interpersonal violence cannot move forward without the voices of young people. This is not to say that young people are only needed as far as they are useful, but rather that it takes all of us to create the future that we want to see. Grace Lee Boggs states that, “Movements are born of critical connections rather than critical mass.” It takes a coalition to make sustainable and meaningful change. It is with both our elders and our youth that we achieve collective liberation.  

To foster this idea of critical connection, the Action Alliance created the Honeycomb Retreat, Youth Action Council, and the Youth Connection Zoom series. Each of these spaces uses youth organizing as a guiding framework. The Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO) defines youth organizing as “engaging young people in building power for social change” and using “distinct sets of culturally and contextually resonant practices to develop youth leadership within a safe and supportive environment.” Youth Organizing values youth-adult partnerships, respects youth voices, promotes holistic development, and creates a pipeline where young people can continue meaningful community leadership. 

This past year, the Youth Action Council (Y.A.C.) of the Action Alliance created the Youth Are Curriculum. Created for and by young people, this curriculum aims to support young people in seeing themselves as leaders and change-makers in their communities and encourages adult facilitators, preventionists, and advocates to value the strengths, knowledge, and creativity young people bring to the movement to end violence. The Y.A.C. was able to share this creation with folks all over the country via webinar in late Spring, hoping to inspire others to connect with and empower youth in their own communities.  It is important to emphasize that the work the Y.A.C., and youth activists in general, created honors and acknowledges its predecessors. They looked to past artists, activists, and theories to build their work. Knowing that none of this work exists in a vacuum is key to learning from our history to move forward. The Youth Action Council looked to the work of Advocates for Youth, Survived and Punished, and even the Action Alliance’s DO YOU Uncurriculum for guidance. It is work and organizations like these that we learn from and look to for understanding.  

We hope to continue cultivating this energy and framework with our second Honeycomb Retreat. The Honeycomb Retreat is a free online arts and creative expression-based retreat for young advocates, activists, and movement builders ages 18-24 throughout the state of Virginia. The Honeycomb Retreat will be held virtually over the course of 3 weekends (July 30-August 1, August 7-8, and August 13-15) where Fellows will participate in two Keynote sessions, political education workshops, and art-making sessions.  

We hosted our first retreat in 2019 with past Fellows remarking, “I am thankful to be given the opportunity to speak truth and voice my opinions.” A lot was learned from that first retreat, and a key part that was missing was hearing directly from the young people in attendance. At the end of the 2019 retreat, the participants were asked, what are the resources you and other young people need to be a part of the movement and what work do you want to see organizations like the Action Alliance and its members do with youth and youth organizers to fight against sexual and intimate partner violence. Fellows named that they needed to feel welcomed, continued education, and a focus on accessibility. Even though the Action Alliance shared this information with our members, the voices of the young people needed to be further centered. For this reason, staff decided that this year’s Honeycomb Retreat would begin and end with a keynote that is open to all Action Alliance members and local sexual and domestic violence advocates. The keynotes will focus on building towards a future free from violence that also touches on the power of youth organizing/leadership and how we as a movement can bring creativity, arts, and healing into this work. 

We are fortunate to have Louie Ortiz-Fonseca (he/him), Director of LGBTQ Health & Rights at Advocates for Youth, where he works with community-based organizations throughout the country to strengthen their capacity in working with LGBTQ young people, to kick us off. He also works in partnership with young people living with HIV to combat stigma and hosts a YouTube series for LGBTQ youth, Kikis with Louie. Outside of the organization, Louie is the creator of Gran Varones, a digital project that highlights community storytelling and queer pop-culture history. He will be presenting his keynote on Friday, July 30th from 11AM to 12:30PM EST.  

Register for the opening keynote here.

To close us out, we will have Je’Kendria Trahan (she/they), a facilitator, healer, artist, and community organizer within the Movement for Black Lives and the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100). They have helped build and execute local and national campaigns to end the school-to-prison pipeline in D.C, divest from police and invest in Black futures, decriminalize sex work in D.C., cultivate safety from state and interpersonal violence for Black women and femmes, and invest in alternatives to prisons and police through transformative and healing justice. They will be presenting their keynote on Friday, August 13th from 11AM to 12:30PM EST.  

We at the Action Alliance hope that you can join us at both these events to learn more about youth organizing and to connect with other advocates. We also encourage you to reach out to our Prevention Team to dream and scheme about collaborating with youth in your community.  

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