LEI youth writers attend international congress

Lake Erie Ink participants Grace Yoo, Rachel Kelly, and Ayelet Travis enroute to the International Congress of Youth Voices in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Three veteran Lake Erie Ink (LEI) participants attended the second International Congress of Youth Voices, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Aug. 7–11. This year’s congress gathered 130 young writers and activists, ages 16–20, from all around the world, with the goal of enabling them to learn with and from accomplished writers, activists and elected officials.

For the three local delegates, the selection process began with LEI nominating them to the 2019 Congress. After acceptance and submission of required materials, Tess Kelly (of Pepper Pike), Ayelet Travis (of University Heights), and Grace Yoo (of Mayfield Heights), traveled with Amy Rosenbluth, LEI’s executive director, to be part of the event.

According to the congress, “student delegates are chosen based on their commitment to leadership and social justice and their passion and eloquence as writers.” This opportunity to cultivate leadership among accomplished youth was created by author Dave Eggers and nonprofit leader Amanda Uhle.

Many participants are identified through the International Alliance of Youth Writing Centers, a group comprising more than 60 organizations worldwide that believe “young people need places where they can write and be heard, where they can have their voices polished, published, and amplified.”

If that mission sounds familiar, it may be because Cleveland Heights-based LEI is a member of the alliance. Rosenbluth has found the relationship to be fortifying, in terms of developing best practice models and building a sense of community that is not bound by geography.

This year’s delegates participated in public performances and programming that included open mic nights, poetry slams, writing workshops, and a teen editors/book project.

The five-day event included “many amazing and inspiring educators and activists,” said Travis, a Fuchs Mizrahi and Heights High alum. “Between seminars, we got to explore the beautiful city of San Juan and volunteer with an organization that aims to rebuild Puerto Rico.”
For Travis, the most meaningful aspect of the congress was meeting other delegates in a setting where peer mentorship, with invested adults ensuring a supported infrastructure, can thrive. Said Travis, “When you are young and a creative or activist, it is hard to not feel small when your role models are all adults. Surrounded by so many creatives and activists in my age range was uplifting and inspiring.”
Travis believes her creative work and social activism will be changed by this experience. She explained, “Listening, learning, and advocating for those who suffer from oppression isn’t enough. Often we ride the social-justice wave and only listen to who everyone else is listening to (which often are the people who have the most privilege within the group). After the congress, I have made it a point to actively seek out marginalized voices, listen to their stories, learn from their perspectives, and then advocate for them and educate my community about their struggles.”

The congress covered lodging and meals for student delegates, who paid their own way. The three LEI-affiliated youth writers received partial financial assistance and a chaperone via LEI.

To read about the 2019 delegates, visit www.internationalcongressofyouthvoices.com. To learn more about Lake Erie Ink and its upcoming events and programs, including The College Essay Workshop (Oct. 2), Teen Writing workshops, and a Stories of Suspense writing workshop (Oct. 26), visit https://lakeerieink.org.

Shari Nacson

Mostly a mom, Shari Nacson, is a freelance editor, social worker, and nonprofit consultant who makes her home in Cleveland Heights. More than anything, Nacson is inspired by kids and adults who build connection through kindness.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 12:53 PM, 10.02.2019