Students from several MPS schools gathered on April 19 at Longfellow Alternative High School for the second annual Social Justice Summit. Hosted by a student group called Dare 2 Be Real, the event aimed to help students navigate self-identity and self-discovery within a social justice framework.
The event began with an introduction, followed by three morning sessions that participated throughout, lunch, a keynote speech from lawyer and community leader Nekima Levy-Armstrong, a choice of afternoon activities, and three afternoon sessions that participants rotated through.
“If you know who you are, it’s easier to navigate the world around,” one student participant said in response to a student leader.
Dare 2 Be Real is an interracial student leadership group focused on eliminating racism. Several MPS schools have Dare 2 Be Real chapters and several of those chapters were represented at the Summit.
“The world has changed. Your voice matters. We need to hear from you,” said Longfellow principal Dr. Padmini Udupa in the event’s introduction.
Udupa went on to remind students that their voices and leadership would lead their communities in the future and she thanked them for that initiative, despite the headiness of the topics they have to deal with as young people in today’s world, including climate change, safety, gun violence, inclusion, and identity.
“All these things in front of you. You still need to study, graduate, enjoy your life. But at the same time you’ve taken the adult responsibility as well as being a teenager,” said Dr. Udupa, a longtime principal at Longfellow. “You’re doing more than what we did growing up. You’re going to lead us.”
The event was attended by students from several MPS schools including Washburn High School, Edison High School, Transition Plus, Wellstone International High School, and more.
Students hosted the event and were supported by several staff organizers including Sharon White, Longfellow Dean of Students, who also helped to organize the event last year.
Morning sessions focused on creativity, identity, and the arts. Afternoon sessions focused on a variety of equity issues including sexual assault as it impacts Indigenous women, generational wealth, and inclusion. Afternoon activities included a bike ride, a traveling exhibit from KingDemetrius Pendelton, sound healing, a neighborhood walk, and mind and body resonance.
Keynote speaker Levy-Armstrong was introduced by Dare 2 Be Real student leader Kyla Armour, who also designed shirts for each Dare 2 Be Real member that show a woman removing tape from her mouth.
“Black women’s voices have been silenced for years. Now that we’re in a group we can speak out,” said Armour. “In the photo the woman is taking the tape off her mouth, she’s no longer silenced. Her voice matters. My voice matters. All of our voices matter."
Levy-Armstrong discussed her experience growing up and the impacts of seeing marginalization in her community as a child.
“At nine years old I decided I wanted to become a lawyer,” said Levy-Armstrong, who also said she didn’t know any lawyers growing up. “The age you are right now, you might have a dream, you might have a vision, you might have a goal, you might have something that you want to do with your life. But you may think that it’s not possible to do it.”
Levy-Armstrong went on to urge students to continue goal-setting, dreaming, and thinking about their own futures.
“Now that doesn’t mean it will be easy,” said Levy-Armstrong. “There are all kinds of trips, traps, and obstacles that try to get in our way. But you have to make up your mind in spite of those things that you are going to go after your goals and your dreams.”
Levy-Armstrong’s keynote speech was streamed by local community journalist KingDemetrius. It can be found here.