More than a month has passed now since the Youth Passageways gathering. I’ve found it very difficult to put my experience into words.  When folks have asked me about it since, I typically respond, “the gathering changed things for me, and now I need to figure out what that means.”

As someone whose whole life revolves around rites of passage, the process of initiation is known terrain, in some ways even comfortable terrain.  And yet, the whole point of initiation is stepping fully into the unknown. It’s a mysterious dance, to feel myself as someone who experiences a sense of recognition, of knowing, most fully in that state of the unknown.

At each Youth Passageways gathering thus far, I have been transformed personally and professionally, and this has instilled in me deep loyalty for the dream that is Youth Passageways.  This gathering was no exception. My role as Co-Coordinator put me right in the thick of the planning and organizing for the gathering. During the months leading up to the event, it became clear that I would be part of the MC team as well, a responsibility that both excited me and made me deeply anxious.  Having been part of each Youth Passageways gathering thus far, I knew what a hot seat I would find myself in, and didn’t know if I was really up to the task. This community is a fiery one. I’ve seen folks get pretty burned, and being in this seat felt like a big initiation personally: and a very public one, at that.

Here are some of the themes that I now carry with me out of Los Angeles, that will inform my inquiry and practice moving forward:

Ceremony & Ancestors:

“Listening to the Voices of the Ancestors” was one of three outcomes for the gathering, and “Ceremonial Gathering” was one of our design principles. As a Western-educated, white-skinned woman with a strong spiritual foundation, I feel like I’ve spent my life dancing between belief and non-belief. Invoking the ancestors is something that I’ve learned is important, but really believing that when we called in the ancestors, the ancestors came in, is something that I find challenging. I can believe and not-believe at the same time. In this gathering space, I fully surrendered to the ceremony, understanding very clearly that there were things happening that I couldn’t see, and couldn’t understand.  

For example, there were many forces at work in the room during the Saturday night public event: who got to speak/perform, for how long, who was asked not to speak, who was accidentally forgotten during the program: all of these things unfolded behind the scenes, in layers of each person’s experience. I found out later that there were people present whom hadn’t been in the same room with each other for years, because of old conflicts.

Another example came through the process by which Youth Passageways as a network asked permission of Marcus Lopez on behalf of the Chumash people to meet on their lands. How this process would happen remained a deep mystery in the months leading up to the gathering, and I felt the weight of so desperately wanting a clear plan because this aspect felt so important. Experiencing the natural and seamless way things unfolded, Marcus’ generosity with his time, guidance, and cultural teachings, made clear to me that there were so many forces at work that were beyond my comprehension.

Not all of what transpired at the gathering could be understood by our rational, linear minds, nor could have been planned or designed by them. This was the most intensive space I have been in such a leadership role. It was deeply humbling to serve our shared vision as best as I could, from my well-educated, well-trained yet still so limited understanding of what was happening. I learned a great deal from my co-MC’s, co-organizers, and mentors.  Which leads me to…


I was blessed at the gathering to work with truly gifted elders and mentors. One in particular feels important to name, Gigi Coyle. I’ve been privileged to work closely with Gigi, and learn from her, since the preparations for the Ojai gathering in 2013. Gigi served as active witness and behind-the-scenes support for the MC team, and as an anchor and ally for me. With her in this back-up role, I experienced something unique and powerful: a form of direct transmission of teachings over the course of the gathering. With her at my back (and sometimes my side), I could process in the moment what I saw, better discern what was needed, hear her whisper small suggestions in my ear to help me catch things and think about how to phrase my offerings for the collective. I have never learned so much in such a short period of time as I did through this process of being actively mentored, receiving teachings JUST WHEN I NEEDED THEM! This taught me what experiential learning and mentorship is all about in its deepest, most powerful manifestation.

There are many others I could name here that I felt gifted to learn from at this Gathering: Luis Rodriguez in his role as co-MC was of course an amazing, humble, and gracious team member as well as powerful teacher for me. And many others who shared their wisdom in large ways, small ways, and in quiet moments.

The Dance of Masculine & Feminine:

This gathering was a lot about gender for me, which is not a new theme in my own life, nor in our inquiries at Youth Passageways. At this gathering, Youth Passageways came up against our edge in terms of gender inclusivity. We saw and heard named as feedback the ways that we are still trapped in a gender binary and struggling to become LGBTQ+ inclusive, and create the safest space we can. At the same time, for me personally, as one who identifies and expresses herself strongly as female, big questions came up around how I relate to myself as a woman, and how I see and interrupt sexism and misogyny when I see it show up in the world around me, in ways that are inclusive of all gender identities. The breakout session called “The Ecological Role of the Queer” helped me to develop a deeper understanding of the importance of creating spaces for those who cross the boundaries of gender. I learned more about how those who have lived and breathed and flowed with the energies of masculine and feminine have to offering when they have space to share how these dynamics show up in nature and in their own bodies as well as the ways they show up in our society within our current structures of gender socialization.  I learned how the more I work to create safe spaces for these folks, the more I can have access to their teachings and experiences that can inform my own healing and development as a woman, not trapped by my own gendered experiences and unconscious patterns.  Throughout this gathering I saw clearly my edge in navigating these complexities with grace, respect, patience, and commitment to creating as safe of spaces as possible for those who identify as women, those who identify as men, and those who identify as somebody altogether different than this structure.

The Role of Youth:

One of the dreams early on in planning this gathering was having a strong youth presence.  Yet there were questions about this. As a gathering for practitioners, it felt important to create a space for adults to have their own experience, and a place for personal renewal. The goal of the gathering was not to provide an initiatory experience for young people: that was the work of our partners, not Youth Passageways! And yet, it is important to include youth voices when we’re speaking about youth work. It keeps us honest, grounded as practitioners in what is actually needed. Young people are the link to our future, and the ones that have the neurological flexibility, adaptability, curiosity, and passion to create solutions needed to heal our communities – so how can we not include them? In this regard, this gathering was a seminal moment, a turning point for our network , where we made it very clear, not just through words but through action, that young people are truly at the center of our spiral as a network. The way the Saturday evening public event was planned and implemented made emphasized this strongly: the way Youth Passageways, for the very first time, shared our story with the wider world was in an evening designed by two young women of color with the help of a number of their caring mentors, where youth voices were heard and highlighted throughout. I hope someone writes down in great detail what happened that evening, because I believe that if we told and re-told the story of Saturday evening as a sacred story, we would uncover layers and layers of information about who Youth Passageways actually is as a family, network of practitioners, and social movement.  But in any event, youth were at the heart of it!  

This was also a gratifying part of the gathering for me personally.  I’ve observed that in many white-run, youth-serving organizations (which is primarily where I work), there is an absence of young people in leadership positions.  As one who has served in leadership positions in such organizations for the last 10+ years, this means that I work in an almost exclusively adult world, while my work continues to center around the needs of youth.  Meanwhile, I’ve got so much more to give to young people than I did 10 years ago – and it’s so easy for me to lose touch with what is actually important to young people themselves! This gathering provided an opportunity for me to work side by side with some of the most amazing and inspiring young people, learning from them about their day to day realities as well as there dreams of what’s possible, and build real relationships.  The moment I could be there for a young woman the last morning of the gathering, as she tearfully ended a painful telephone call, with her boyfriend, was truly the most meaningful part of the gathering for me.

Inviting while also holding boundaries:

Youth Passageways invited consultant J. Miakoda Taylor to serve as a witness of the gathering. During her reflections at the end, she offered a gesture, one open hand outstretched with palm up while one hand at the heart faced palm out, as a gesture of invitation and inclusion while also holding boundaries. I’ve taken this gesture to heart, and have been pondering it deeply. One of the things I’ve learned about the Youth Passageways network is that the work we’re doing super challenging, navigating through cultural wounds to come together on behalf of the young people in all of our communities. I’m increasingly realizing how important it is for Youth Passageways to do the work we need to do to articulate clearly who we are and how we do our work, and allow folks to choose to self-select out if it doesn’t work for them while always inviting input and feedback, making processes transparent, and daylighting and addressing power dynamics within the organization.  As one who most often sees possibilities and opportunities for connection, this is a hard edge for me to come up against.  Which leads me to…

The link between rites of passage and social justice:

Throughout the gathering, a question hung in the air: what does all this cultural healing work have to do with rites of passage?  This is a question that has been living in Youth Passageways since its beginning.  I see many in the network doing hard work to figure out ways to articulate this link, and sometimes I find it frustrating to need to go over this terrain because the answers seem so obvious to me. This gathering highlighted for me how important it is that I work harder at communicating this link effectively.  Here’s the language I’m currently playing around with:

  • The needs of our communities are different, and therefore our approaches must be different.
  • Yet some of the needs in our communities are the same, and therefore we must learn from one another in order to be most effective.
  • The impacts of structural inequality and injustice inflict further trauma at the individual, family system, and community level, which undermines the health, safety, and welfare of us all. This requires us all to work together to undo these systems of harm.
  • Working together and learning from one another happens most efficiently and effectively when we are operating within systems of trust and respect for all beings, and with trust and respect for our shared systems and processes.
  • Developing this trust and respect within the unhealthy system of Western culture and corporate capitalism requires time, patience, and commitment, and it means making space to explore ongoing and often subtle or unconscious patterns of power, privilege, and oppression, and how these patterns show up and undermine our shared work together.

How this is manifesting in our network already leads to…

Healthy Family:

One of Youth Passageways’ Core Values is Healthy Family. “Family” came forth as the word to describe us from M. Kalani Souza at the 2013 Ojai gathering, invoking the foundational Hawaiian value of Ohana in our network. This gathering was so much like a family reunion, in all of the senses of that word. One of the sentiments expressed by myself, and others at this Gathering that had been at other YPW gatherings before, is a sense of movement.  Yes, there’s disappointment for many (including myself) that we are not further along in our growth process, or our healing process. But this gathering clearly incorporated singificant learnings from each of the gatherings beforehand. As people keep showing up and staying in the process together, our trust in one another grows with our shared stories and common experiences. This gathering renewed my commitment to show up in whatever ways I’m called, and can, for this family.  

and last…

Commitment to Place

One of the biggest learnings I had from the Gathering didn’t take place at the gathering at all, but rather over the course of the following week.  Dane and I were lucky enough to be in Los Angeles for over two weeks before the gathering and for a week after, and this was my fifth trip to LA in a year.  Particularly through the generosity of Kruti Parekh hosting us in her home, but also the generosity of so many in LA, I really got to experience life in this crazy city that so many call home, and came to love it. In the week following the gathering, I had the opportunity to attend a YouthBuild march & rally through downtown LA that Kruti co-organized, and a youth conference called RiseUp! organized by YPW Stewardship Council member Fidel Rodriguez.  Attending these two events for youth of color so shortly on the heels of the gathering helped me understand more deeply the issues effecting young people in Los Angeles.  As I left LA, headed back to my home in rural north central Washington, I carry a deep love for that crazy big city and the people I met there, and questions about how that love can lead to action and continued connection. It’s imbued in me an even stronger commitment to how I show up and am of service in the place where I live and the communities that I am a part of, while simultaneously remaining connected to this Youth Passageways network that stretches across such great distances.  

I want to end with my deepest gratitude to all those that have helped Youth Passageways get this far, through dollars, time, sweat, tears, connections, wisdom, and all the other currencies that help our work to flow.  What is happening through this network is special.  Not easy, but special nonetheless.  

in gratitude & service,



Highlights of Healing and Justice

Stewardship Council member Kruti Parekh describes an experience on the way home from the gathering with two other participants.

We Bring Our Voices Into One

Beyond Boundaries/School of Lost Borders Attend the Youth Passageways Gathering. A reflective offering by Siri Gunnarson, Will Scott, and Gigi Coyle

Thoughts & Reflections

Offerings by Pınar Ateş Sinopoulos-Lloyd, Sobey Wing & Favio Lovos

Seeing | Believing

Reflections on Process & Experience by Stewardship Council Chair Darcy Ottey

*These are just some of the many voices that were present. We’re looking for more, please send your reflections or experiences HERE

Highlights of Healing & Justice

An offering by Kruti Parekh

Youth Passageways Gathering 2016 in Los Angeles – What an incredible experience! One of the highlights where I continued to serve as a bridge. Four generations in my car, driving out of the retreat center – with Rebecca Ann ChiefEagle, from the Pine Ridge Reservation, Dayvon Williams, Youth Organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition and Khalil Parekh-Richardson, my 8 year old son. I asked Dayvon if he knew what two spirited meant and he said no. I asked Rebecca to explain. She shared that two spirited were the community’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer population and that that is a part of their medicine – they are healers in the community and care for the children of the community. They are accepted and have a specific role in the community. She also explained that if there are people who were not born that way and it is not their actual expression, they have ceremonies to help them heal so that they are able to fully express who they are in the way that is most natural for them.

For me, this description that Rebecca shared resonated so “right” – on a spirit level. Having Rebecca explain it was so powerful for me and I can imagine for Dayvon. Dayvon has been regularly harassed as a black gay man growing up in Los Angeles. Imagine the world received his gift or “medicine” in the way Rebecca described. Imagine all the harm that could have been prevented and all the support that could have been given. Thank you Rebecca for the gift you shared with all of us.

We Bring Our Voices Into One

Beyond Boundaries/School of Lost Borders

Attend the Youth Passageways Gathering

an offering by Siri Gunnarson, Will Scott, and Gigi Coyle

We, “BB/SOLB ” are, some of us, immigrants, settlers, refugees, metis or mutts

We are all visitors here for brief moments in universal time

Some kind of ancient modern pilgrims,

Landing on new shores


Together we are asking, what ceremonies are right for this land,

these people, these times?


Everywhere we see people seeking connection,

community – indigenous experience, knowledge and ways,

longing for belonging


It is these ways of remembering,

knowing we are part of this earth,

ways that have too often been destroyed, forgotten, lost.

Seeking home in family, tribe, culture,

ripped from our roots, we spiral into natural, man-made disasters,

hate crimes, police killings, another school shooting,

uninitiated in the classrooms, in gated-communities, in police uniforms,

suicides on the “res”, in the streets, and in our hearts

races, creeds, elites, and destitute of all ages, at war.


During the Youth Passageways Summit in LA

space was given, it was a time so needed,

for dedicated Youth Guides from all walks of life

to listen to each other,

experience and reveal the journey, the joy, the gift,

the pain, the anger, the fear around and within –

the cost of privilege, marginalization and avoidance.

There was just enough space in between

to keep the heart open,

allow it to be shocked, to help awaken just a little bit more

our individual and collective soul.


We were asked to inquire,

in small self-identified ethnic groupings…

What we know of original ways, of rites of passage

What was lost, what survived.
“Sitting with 12 or so Europeans

I heard longing for connection with nature, ritual, roots…

Naming the grief, the burning of the witches and our ways.


“Sitting with those in between, bridgewalkers,

I recognized the responsibility, opportunity, the bigger story

of community in earth, water, fire, and air

The life we have to live.”


“Hearing other stories of suffering and violence,

‘I hate America’ rang in my heart,

The discomfort in my skin, the insecurity of myself

I could only imagine a day-to-day feeling of being enslaved,

continually separated, profiled, marginalized, identified as threat.”


Sitting on stage, facing  our circle,

Diverse faces with lineage from many world corners,

We shared just a bit of our story, just enough

to own the  sorrow and grief, the legacy of war,

the source of so many peoples suffering

in our collective history of colonization.


We felt and heard a collective commitment rising,

to know our roots more deeply,

to cultivate, grow and share more awareness around privilege,

to continue and expand the dialogue, open more connection,

deepen partnership with others and the places we live.


Uncried tears, bottled for generations,

springing forward in powerful prose and strong young leaders.

Grateful for the opportunity to listen, to witness,

to feel yet again and as if for the very first time….

the impact of cultural genocide, appropriation and discrimination.

To realize yet again and as if for the first time…

that any movement which fails to address the stories it emerges from,

is destined to repeat them.

To realize yet again, that privilege comes at great cost…

That we are not to blame, but we are responsible…

…and that we are to blame, if we don’t take responsibility.


To realize that sometimes our greatest gift is silence, attention.

To remember that no one wins in a system of oppression,

that our true liberation is collective.


We will find a way,

To continue to own, to name the history and grieve,

to restore the best of the old, discover the new,

As we learn to ask permission, to respect those who came before

As we find the way to connect, as part of nature, land and city

As we work to initiate, respect, support the youth in our communities,

As we offer ceremonial life inherited from our ancestors

reawakened in our hearts and bones.


We are grateful for the opportunity to have come,

To slowly listen into possibilities for healing, for authentic reconciliation.

Fueled by fully showing up at YPW

We will be relentlessly truthful, we will be who we are,

Asking for what we need and offering what we can.

We will move forward by seeing, listening, learning

thru prayer, thru action, thru love

For ourselves, each other, Life,

For future generations.

Thoughts & Reflections

Offerings by Pınar Ateş Sinopoulos-Lloyd, Sobey Wing & Favio Lovos


Seeing | Believing

Reflections on Process & Experience by Darcy Ottey


More than a month has passed now since the Youth Passageways gathering. I’ve found it very difficult to put my experience into words.  When folks have asked me about it since, I typically respond, “the gathering changed things for me, and now I need to figure out what that means.”

As someone whose whole life revolves around rites of passage, the process of initiation is known terrain, in some ways even comfortable terrain.  And yet, the whole point of initiation is stepping fully into the unknown. It’s a mysterious dance, to feel myself as someone who experiences a sense of recognition, of knowing, most fully in that state of the unknown…..Read More>

Back to gathering page>

From the start, as we began fostering connections and taking stock of who felt called to organize around pulling this gathering off, we engaged with a small number of Los Angeles-based organizations and practitioners around the nuances and themes that come out of LA who would go on to become our host partners.

Chris Henrikson of Street Poets Inc who stepped forward early on, observed, Los Angeles is the “PR system for projecting the West’s collective wounds onto the world.”  The stories coming out of Hollywood continue to promote unsustainable ways of living, perpetuate unequal structures of power, and glorify values that undermine the health of our communities.  At the same time, LA County houses the most incarcerated youth of any county in the world, ripping families apart and initiating young people in the most unintentional, hellacious of ways every day, causing more and more wounding.

About the gathering in 2016, Chris goes on to say: “There is a deeper transformational story surfacing in LA now inspired by many of the earth’s indigenous traditions, those that originated here and those that have found welcoming soil here beneath its gang and violence-plagued streets.  It’s about community rooted in nature, our ancestors, the rebirth of ritual, old wisdom made new. This gathering will be an opportunity to explore and uncover some of those roots and to see how they are supporting social change on the surface of our city – all with the understanding that the antidote for what ails us as a society can be found where the poison is most present.” Street Poets use these dynamics in their approach to working with youth of all kinds through the art of poetry.

The Poet Laureate of LA at the time and co-founder of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore Luis J. Rodriquez, and the youth of the Young Warriors (a for youth by youth group that has grown from the roots of Tia Chucha’s) joined as host partner’s as well. Tia Chucha’s offers a vehicle by which the voices of young people, authors and artists of all kinds from varied backgrounds and lineages can as one of the Street Poets mantras goes: “Be heard. Be Healed.”

As such, throughout the gathering poetry, language, and the arts, in general, became an enormous method of offering and unpacking wounds and creating a dialog around their healing. We wanted to offer some of the brilliant and soulful work that was shared below:

Poetry (in order of appearance) by Mayda Del Valle,  Dayvon Williams, Chris Henrickson, Art Quiros & Frank Escamilla. Clips taken from “The Poetry of Initiation” workshop offered by Street Poets & from our public event Blessings & Beauty.

The poet laureate of Los Angeles Luis J. Rodriguez (as well an MC of the whole gathering) reading from his 1993 work “Always Running”

Favio Lovos, a Street Poets Youth who was invited to be a witness to the gathering offered his closing reflections in the form of a poem he was currently working on. It was so powerful we asked if he would speak a bit about what poetry meant to him and recite it for us again.

And finally here are 3 Works shared by Dayvon Williams our youth representative from the Youth Justice Coalition. Read Kruti Parekh’s reflection on her time with Dayvon and an elder from the Pine Ridge reservation Becky Chief Eagle HERE.


I come from the grassroots of struggle. The streets and incarceration system where I was thrown away crucially unvalued. In the shoe with no one to talk to but four walls. The streets of a financial struggle where there were days I didn’t know what I was going to eat. In order to get by the struggle I blew trees and drank gin causing a little sin because this foundation is rough and reall!!! Where do I build up?!!! I was founded on parents who were addicts, immediately rolling me into the child welfare system, which was founded on the continuation of breaking up families. I come from a foundation of doing what you have to do to survive. It’s a daily drive, just to get by. Many time I’m out of energy and drained, that’s when I practice my generational addictions and reach for my gin. This my foundation, but I will fight the struggle and move on, I’m rebuilding my grass roots.

A Dream Deferred

I’ve lost, I’ve lost it all! O shall I just say I have a dream deferred? Here I am, stuck viciously in this trap, with no way out. I had plans, I had goals, and a future planned step by step on how I was going to get there. Now there’s a block in my road, a default! A dream deferred. How did this happen? Why?! So here I am, lost, with no direction to my next move. I’ve worked so hard for this, took flight and faced my fears. Then strong wind in the pretty blue skies caused massive turbulence. I crashed and burned, energy drained, feeling things words can’t express! A dream deferred. Back to the pits and grounds of earth this gravity has pulled me to, I just plant new seeds while I’m stuck in this rain. But while the sun rises to make its contributions for me to grow, I will search, I will work, utilize and exhaust all my resources just as this heartless world has exhausted me, and I will not, I repeat, I will not have a dream deferred.



I am the rose that grew from the concrete budded stones, rocks, cement, drug vials, and addiction from an unhealthy environment. Those are my roots. My colors faded slowly, nobody ever gave me any water or put me in the sun. How am I to survive? I wondered at that stage why nobody offered to repair me? So I started taking steps on my own wondering and trying to figure out” what grows in the midst of all this chaos?! I started to navigate my way through this environment, reflecting my past and visualising my future. So I found new ingredients. Over time I started to notice the color of my rose was brightening. My leaves were stronger! My ingredients had changed. So I look back having reflections of emotional abuse, drug vials, and addictions, poverty and an unhealthy environment and I see as I move forward, looking in the mirror at my reflections and a new healthy environment. The weather always changes, its rebuilding the roots, that will get you through it all. The weather isn’t a reflection of me, my choices reflect my weather.

Back to gathering page>

Highlights of Healing and Justice for Kruti Parekh

 Youth Passageways Gathering 2016 in Los Angeles – What an incredible experience! One of the highlights where I continued to serve as a bridge. Four generations in my car, driving out of the retreat center – with Rebecca Ann ChiefEagle, from the Pine Ridge Reservation, Dayvon Williams, Youth Organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition and Khalil Parekh-Richardson, my 8-year-old son. I asked Dayvon if he knew what two spirited meant and he said no. I asked Rebecca to explain. She shared that two spirited were the community’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer population and that that is a part of their medicine – they are healers in the community and care for the children of the community. They are accepted and have a specific role in the community. She also explained that if there are people who were not born that way and it is not their actual expression, they have ceremonies to help them heal so that they are able to fully express who they are in the way that is most natural for them.

For me, this description that Rebecca shared resonated so “right” – on a spirit level. Having Rebecca explain it was so powerful for me and I can imagine for Dayvon. Dayvon has been regularly harassed as a black gay man growing up in Los Angeles. Imagine the world received his gift or “medicine” in the way Rebecca described. Imagine all the harm that could have been prevented and all the support that could have been given. Thank you Rebecca for the gift you shared with all of us.

We set out as an organization to hold our first ‘official’ gathering over four days in the beautiful Temescal Gateway Park nestled in the Pacific Palisades just outside Los Angeles. We endeavored to bring together around 70-100 leaders of youth initiatory experiences from LA County, across the United States, and around the world to “build a foundation,” supporting each other and the work as a whole. We ended up with a diverse group of folks, 25% of whom were from Los Angeles, which was in line with our target. You can see our full demographics and participant list HERE.

Intentions: Early on in our gathering, participants were asked to offer their own intentions. Here are some of the responses:

The Process: Over a year in the dreaming, planning, and execution, the Los Angeles gathering was the result of design by consensus. It’s important to underline this fact, as often those three words are used to describe why something wasn’t able to meet expectations. There is not one piece of the gathering that can be attributed to any one person. Instead, each piece is a result of the power, spirit, efficacy, and, yes, challenge! of a truly effective collaboration and consensus.

An important part of our process was a Pre-Gathering Webinar.  Hosted by the Youth Passageways Cross-Cultural Protocols working group, this webinar provided an opportunity to share the history of Youth Passageways and key opportunities and challenges of previous gatherings, share the Youth Passageways Guiding Principles in Cross-Cultural Protocols (put into practice for the first time as a large community at this gathering), providing some basic history and context of place for the gathering in Los Angeles. The Webinar also asked participants to prepare for the gathering by furthering their knowledge of their own ancestral traditions. This all underscored a key premise of the Gathering: we were all there as co-creators of a shared experience.

Day One – Listening to the Voices of Our Ancestors: Arrivals came by air, rental car, shuttle, carpool, and bus from many places both near and far , including Baltimore, Hawaii, British Columbia, Sweden, and Missouri. AfterIMG_7890 settling in, Marcus Lopez (community organizer with Barbareno Chumash Council)  oriented us with the history of the place and its people. After shared prayer and blessing, we took some time to walk the land and let it seep into us before coming back together for dinner. We opened the evening by formally asking permission for Youth Passageways to gather on Chumash land with prayers, songs, and blessings, and the co-creation of our Ancestry Altar. Even with our group size of around seventy people, we were able to hear each voice share what they brought to the altar, inviting our many ancestors to be with us for our time together.

Day Two – Tending to the Humanity of the Circle: The first full day began with blessings and announcements as we continued to soak into how we would be together. Kruti Parekh & Ashanti Branch, our facilitators for the first half of the day, invited us to write our intentions, led us through a movement exercise, and helped us develop our shared agreements, expanding on the pre-gathering agreements drafted by the Design & Facilitation team. We were then invited to divide into cultural affinity groups based on shared. We discussed how and why initiation practices had been lost by our respective blood ancestors, and which pieces remained. The groups were: European (two groups), African, people from the Americas, Asian/Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, and Other. Dividing up this way brought forward many emotions, and provided a potent way to dive into our growing relationships. Afterward, each group shared a report, taking us through lunch and into the early afternoon.  


Frederick Marx and Marjorie Jean were our afternoon facilitators and invited us to break up into random small groups.  We gathered in these groups all across the land and spent time really grounding with each other, taking the previous conversation even further. These groups focused on the following questions: How and at what point did we lose our respective rites of passage? What story is each of us carrying?  What kind of future are we calling in?

After dinner, we held a water ceremony for everyone who wished to attend. This ceremony, as is true of much of the ceremony at Youth Passageways, emerged out of the unique moment, what had transpired during the gathering so far, and the unique offerings of those that were gathered. Facilitated by Sobey Wing and Pinar Sinopoulos-Lloyd, the ceremony highlighted “the Elephant in the Room,” and invited those present to give voice to their pain and wounds: the “Elephants” they experience in their lives. We experimented as a community with centering folks whose perspectives are often most marginalized by inviting them to speak first (indigenous people, people of color, LGBTQ+). This was an evening that dove headfirst into deep and powerful pain, voicing the corrosive effects of power, privilege, and colonization on our world, and how those effects can show up within our circles. Northern Cheyenne elder and Youth Passageways Stewardship Council member Sharon Bearcomesout-Blackwolf, assisted by Young Warrior Militiza Tapia, led a prayer and water blessing to close out our evening, helping us to give our pain over to the land and make way for what still lay ahead of us.

Day Three – Amplifying the Movement: The second full day was no less full and intense than the previous. K-Rahn Vallantine and Judy Piazza organized a series of several different breakout sessions for folks to choose from. This was an opportunity for those who attended the gathering to share their work and learn from one another. The breakout sessions included:

  • Street Poets Presents – The Poetry of Initiation: Chris Henrickson, Mayda Del Valle, Marjorie Jean, Frank Escamilla, Art Quiros and Street Poets Youth
  • Warrior Films’ Rites of Passage film viewing & discussion – Frederick Marx
  • Youth Passageways Cross-Cultural Protocols Working Group – Sobey Wing, Ramon Parish, Darcy Ottey
  • Ancestral Knowledge – Luis Rodriguez
  • The Rite of Dance – Ramon Parish & Melissa Michaels
  • Collaborative Rites of Passage Los Angeles – Miguel Rivera & many other LA folks
  • “TAKING OFF THE MASK” – A workshop to Get REAL , Ashanti Branch
  • The Ecological & Cultural Role of the Queer – So & Pinar Pınar Ateş Sinopoulos-Lloyd, Clementine Wilson, and Morgan Rebane
  • It Takes a Village – Rich Robinson
  • Initiation & Mythology – Darren Silver
  • Men Supporting Boys Rites of Passage – Brad Smith with Others
  • Blessing & Beauty Youth Track – Kruti Parekh with Genaro Ulloa
  • Amplification, Credibility, and Funding: How do we mobilize needed resources to support meaningful initiation for young people in our communities and beyond? Grant Abert on behalf of Youth Passageways Stewardship Council
  • Ancestral Reconnection: Luis Rodriguez
  • Rediscovering our past to strengthen our work: Megan Chandler
  • Vision Fasts in the 21st Century: Miguel Rivera


At the same time, for many, Saturday was largely focused on preparing to open our doors for a larger public event. While relatively small and modest, this evening marked a seminal moment in Youth Passageways’ development as a network, family, and social movement: it was the first time YPW opened its doors to the wider world, for anyone who wanted to attend. The evening brought people from all over Los Angeles to Temescal Canyon to experience an evening of sharing and reflection on the work we do and what our youth need in the world. Marcus Lopez and his son, Chimiway, sang songs they work to preserve; Young Warriors Militza Tapia and Vianey Moreno (who co-designed and facilitated the evening) spoke powerfully about their own journeys; Luis J. Rodriguez, Los Angeles Poet Laureate, offered thoughtful words; and host partners shared performances and offerings that gave us a sense for the style and breadth of their work. All in all, the evening marked a milestone for Youth Passageways. It’s safe to say we will never be the same again.

Day Four – Reflection and Action: The last morning began with movement held by Melissa Michaels who helped us begin to work out some of the energy and tension that had built up in our bodies throughout such an intense weekend. Ramon Parish and Joshua Gorman then facilitated a spiral fishbowl council, in which each person speaking waits until the person that comes after has finished before getting up. This was an important and well-suited format for us to begin to synthesize what had transpired during our time together. After this, we turned our attention to Youth Passageways as a bodyDarcy and Dane, along with the Stewardship Council anIMG_8067d Guardians, spoke to the tension of an often ‘digital’ network, and the opportunities coming out of this in-person gathering. After a break to eat and digest we stood to form a circle and invited those called to take steps forward in commitment to the shared vision of this dream of Youth Passageways.

As we looked to closing, our witnesses, J. Miakoda Collins and Favio Lopez, offered their reflections. Youth Passageways Guardians, Gigi Coyle and Orland Bishop, helped facilitate our closing while Francisco (Frank) Escamilla called the youth into the center. They were then surrounded by elders and all the rest of us as we sang in prayer and blessing on their well-being. And so our time together came to an end…

Common Themes & Questions: Over our days together we saw many themes begin to emerge that inform not only the time we shared, but what questions are important to live into moving forward. Just a few of many were:

  • What is the role of young people when we gather, and in our network as a whole?
  • How do we continue to listen to the role of place when we come together?
  • How are we living into the dance between naming/healing our wounds and growing ourselves as a community of practice?
  • What are the opportunities to bring gender and Non-Conforming Gender Roles more fully and inclusively into our network?

Take Away: We made mistakes. Things were missed. Wounds were opened maybe a bit wider than expected. Yet we can firmly say: We are changed. We had a vision that was fed by past experience: the experience of not knowing how to ask permission, of not quite knowing how cultures would but up against each other. So we set out to ask permission from the people indigenous to the land on which we gathered, and to be with and support them in good ways. We did that, and it could be felt. We also set out to pull off a public event, a marshaling of resources that would move us further into the future. Given the many learning opportunities we encountered, it was made clear that to open up rites of passage is also to open up the cultures from which they come. There is a good deal of work to be done, and we’re ready to do it – together, as a community and a family.

Quotes From Our Participants:

“Even though a lot of us came in not knowing what to expect and were surprised by what was happening, the team was able to hold space and facilitate things very smoothly. It was just great to see them calm and collected; it made me feel calm and made me begin to trust them and trust the space that I can speak up and really feel heard.”

-Viviana Martin Del Campo, Street Poets Youth

“As a non-profit leader and someone who helms a volunteer run organization, it’s so crucial to bringing people together to learn not only how to be passionate with our words but just as importantly with our resources. As I continue to bring my organization and youth further into this organization it’s going to be necessary to find more contributors who want to help Youth Passageways grow.”

-Ashanti Branch, Ever Forward Club

Next Steps – Immediate next steps and needs include:

  1. Translating the energy of our circle into partnerships and collaborations. We want to partner with YOU. Find out more HERE or reach out via email
  2. Convening ongoing relationships with Los Angeles and Youth Passageways and supporting the LA community in doing so themselves. Interested in the efforts already underway? Contact our Stewardship Council member Kruti Parekh HERE
  3. Hiring an Outreach Coordinator to bring our coming projects and priorities into their full potential.
  4. Looking to Colorado in the fall of 2017. Want to learn more? Contact us HERE

Without Many Hands None of This Would Have Been Possible! Thank you From Youth Passageways!

Financial Summary:

The gathering cost $33,063, nearly a quarter less than we anticipated. Our goal for this gathering was always at base to break even which we nearly did. Our income came in at $30,500. $13,000 of that was in fees and another $12,500 in donations via our scholarship campaign [our most successful single contributor campaign in the history of YPW!] $5,000 of that has been pledged from the California Wellness Foundation. In addition, we were able to offer scholarships to 17 individuals from across the globe!

Individual & Organizational Financial Donations:

Tom Rumpf, Michael Kieran, School of Lost Borders, Alexis Slutsky, Carla Pryne, Carol Wishcamper, Anonymous, Christina Chorafas, David Friedman, David Confino, Deborah Gunther, Des Fitzgerald, Fidel Rodriguez, Frederic Pjie, Anonymous, Heidi Erhardt, James Blaine, John Cook, Kate Bunney, Katherine Brown, Kathleen Redmond & Gary Johnson, Kruti Parekh, Krystyna Jurzykowski, Larry Hobbs, Laura Whitney, Arin Miller Memorial Fund, Leslie Dills, Nathan Roberts, Ralph Alpert, Roger & Margot Milliken, Susanna Knittel, Yvan Rytz, Janet Keating, Kalliopeia Foundation, Kailo Fund, California Wellness Foundation, Ananda Fund, RSF AnJel Fund, Beyond Boundaries & Gigi Coyle

Los Angeles Host Organizations:

Street Poets Inc, Youth Mentoring, The Ojai Foundation, Council in Schools, Tia Chucha’s Young Warriors, Spreading Seeds Wellness Center & the Youth Justice Coalition

Individual In-kind Donations/Volunteer Time:

Marcus Lopez & his Son, Kruti Parekh, Darcy Ottey, Sobey Wing, Marjorie Jean, Fidel Rodriguez, Ramon Parish, Melissa Michaels, Gigi Coyle, Orland Bishop, Vianey Moreno, Milly Tapia, Dane Zahorsky, Marisa Taborga Byrne,  the Many volunteers of Youth Mentoring, Jenn Oestreich, Asa Henderson, Violet Soto, Laura Palomares, Marc Rosner, Mayra Zaragoza, Luis Rodriguez, Mayda Del Valle, Ashanti Branch, Orland Bishop, Sharon Bearcomesout, Frederick Marx, Chris Henrickson, Joshua Gorman, K-Rahn Vallantine, J. Miakoda Taylor, Judy Piazza, Glenn Schiffman, Miguel Rivera, Favio Lovos, Grant Abert, Clementine Wilson, Siri Gunnarson

& of course the Elephant in the Room


Full participant list HERE


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On Saturday, April 23rd, Youth Passageways in collaboration with Los Angeles Host Partners and many gracious volunteers opened its doors for the first time to the public for an evening of rhythm, poetry, ceremony & celebration AND action. The event was codesigned and facilitated by youth from the Tia Chucha’s Young Warriors.

As Militza Tapia, a Young Warrior & Event Co-Organizer put it: “This is a celebration of what keeps us together as one. The blessings and beauty are in honor of our unity—Adults and young people, people of all ages coming together.”

As people arrived they were asked to look at the three questions below and then offer their answers, we’ve compiled a collection of some of their answers:

An offering was made to Marcus Lopez (A representative of the Chumash people & part of the Barbareno Chumash Council) and his son. He then offered a deeply moving opening to our evening. Hear an excerpt below:

In addition the poet laureate of Los Angeles Luis J. Rodriguez (as well an MC of the whole gathering) offered his thoughts on Rites of Passage:

“When we talk about rites of passage we mean a time when we recognize and see young people for the beauty they bring into the world. The rite is to get them to wake up to their own dream, their own story. Waking up to the live the life they were meant to live, not the life someone else told them they were supposed to live. This is a time in which they get blessed by community, and the reason we don’t see it today is because of all the systematic obstacles in their path and it’s taking them from us, it’s killing our youth.  We’re not just talking about nice things to do, we’re talking about the lives of our young people. From drug deaths to gang violence it is killing our youth. So rites of passage is a revolution, a revolution that doesn’t just go to the future but takes from the past in which the threads from the past get tied to the future. The reason why we called this event Blessings and Beauty is because if we don’t properly bless our young people, if we don’t properly see them, if we don’t draw that beauty out of them, many of them will turn to violence. So this is to save lives and not just the lives of our youth but the lives of the rest of us too. When our youth are healed, we all heal. When they begin to make a turn in their lives towards their art, their own genius [because everyone has a genius] we are all able to find our voice. Community is made by these rites, by initiation, initiation to a new life, that says something has to go but not them. It’s a multidimension revolution. It has so many elements and moving parts. It’s also political, it’s economic, we are taking on the system in all kinds of ways but at the heart of it is healing and if there is not healing there is no revolution, you understand? It’s an armed revolution, but let’s expand that view of arms, not guns but poetry, it’s dance, it’s song, it’s hip-hop and it’s punk rock. It’s all the things that people can do in this world and the beauty they can bring into it. It’s theater, it’s writing, it’s an armed revolution and we’re gonna use all our arms to fight this struggle. And it’s important to recognize that we want to be there and witness it.”

He then read from 1993 work “Always Running”

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