A heavy and controlled stream of release embodied the large meeting space as every member of the Youth Employment Summer Institute (YES!) exhaled in unison. Convening coordinator, Mónica Córdova, led the group in a quick breathing exercise. She called upon everyone to clear their outside thoughts and come into the present moment, to remember this starting point of a summer that would bring growth and change to everyone involved.
It was the first time I met the Generation Justice YES! crew, George, Izzy, Victor, Carson and Nick, all of whom were completely welcoming and fun to be around. There were a lot of ice breakers, which aren’t typically what I wake up for in the morning, but there was one in particular that impacted me.
In this ice breaker, we all split into pairs. The instructions were to ask your partner: “Who are you?” repeatedly after they provided one-worded answers for a few minutes, then switch. People around the room laughed and paused and struggled to provide answers for the rapidly-paced question. I would guess that the majority of participants were surprised at how difficult an exercise this was. I know I was. Shouldn’t I know who I am? Humans are experts at labeling and categorizing things, why is it so difficult to claim, then vocalize the roles I fill?
It could be because I have never explicitly sat down and sectioned the scattered facets of my being into categories with which to identify, but I think my main struggle was shouting out and claiming those labels. There is community and support in belonging to groups. There are also stereotypes and biases in belonging to groups. Whether they be positive or negative, people judge and are judged based on labels that have the impact to cause life-long effects. This aspect of self-identification is an important part of social justice for me, giving people the freedom to identify and belong, without it meaning anything different than what they want it to mean.
Being brought into the present was a unifying moment in the training. The solemn tone solidified the importance of the work we were called upon and ready to do. I’m looking forward to reconvening and hearing about the steps that were made towards social justice. And even if I still struggle with the “Who are you?” exercise, I can now respond with “YES! intern” and feel the support and community that was built during the convening.