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YouthVoice Project Confluence Launch Stories

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In February 2017 YPW launched the Youth Voice Project. This project gives the Youth of today an opportunity to answer a series of questions of to simply freeform create through various mediums of expression about what it feels like to be a Youth today. What we’ve received so far are incredible answers, stories, and pieces that gave us such deep insight into the many diverse voices of Youth today. We’re so excited to share with you some of those amazing voices and stories.

Thank you to the many people and organizations who submitted stories and artwork. Special thanks to Ashanti Branch of The Ever Forward Club his Youth Luis and Dashun for your stories. To Trina Gadsden of Youth In Focus and their Youth Amayrani, Jacquelin, Jana, Ariana, Juvanni and Jasmin for your beautiful contributions and Maya Das O’Toole for your vibrant art piece submission. We hope you receive as much as we did from hearing and reading these outstanding and inspiring entries from our Youth today.


Maya Das O’Toole, 16, Boston

“As a high school student working at Artists for Humanity, I have learned to create art that expresses a message visually. I created this painting, Surroundings, based off a prompt assigned by my mentor. It was meant to embody what my ideal world would look like which I interpreted as a self-portrait. As I worked on the painting I kept the values of self-expression, enthusiasm, and community in my mind. The background uses many of the same colors as the foreground which shows how one’s surroundings shape them as people.

Creating a self-portrait is a very personal thing and as a young artist, I chose to express my style in a way that I felt was reflective of my personality. I channeled parts of my life that have made me who I am, for example, my camp, school, work, neighborhood, family, and friends. I used the inspiration from these people and places and put it on canvas to show how they’ve influenced my personality. I’ve been impacted in ways that have shaped my entire being or on a smaller scale. All the experiences I’ve had living in Boston and gaining my independence as I get older have turned me into the colorful, strong person I am today.”

Amayrani S, Seattle [Youth in Focus]

“When I think of empowerment, I think of my family, where I’m from. With my family, I feel confident that I can do anything. My parents give me hope and strength. I also think of my roots. I’m not ashamed of where I’m from. My people are very hard working and strong. I have the power to do whatever I set my mind to. Every time I put on traditional Mexican clothes, I feel like I was meant to do great things in life because I feel like it was who I was meant to be.”

Jacqueline L, Seattle [Youth in Focus]

“I was born and raised in Seattle. I’ve been back to Vietnam a few times, and most recently this past summer. I wanted to represent the expectations I feel from extended family about knowing Vietnamese. This isn’t a new feeling I have now about their expectations, but it was definitely amplified recently after staying in Vietnam for two months. I’ve felt this way my entire life, but I’ve snapped lately. It has all become so overwhelming. This expectation to be able to speak Vietnamese well, their assumptions that I don’t Vietnamese at all, the fact that I don’t speak Vietnamese in front of them very much, and the assumption that they think I don’t understand Vietnamese at all, calling me merely “American,” and taking away the “Vietnamese” part has all taken a toll on me. My single mother was working frequently when I was younger, and I speak English to my siblings. That’s all there is to it. I wish that they would be able to understand this without ridiculing me.”

Jana E, Seattle [Youth in Focus]

“Life, well more specifically, high school evokes a whirlwind of emotion. The hormones that come from this age only heighten these emotions. My life is a crazy journey right now where I am finding out who I am and want to be. Through the people I meet, the experiences I have, and the choices I make, my life is shaped even if it in the tiniest ways. I guess what I am trying to portray is the art of not projecting what appears. Throughout my life I have been judged, stereotyped and put in a box for my appearance. I want people to see the other side of me, the side that is more than meets the eye.”

Ariana G, Seattle [Youth in Focus]

“Human connection is a huge part of existence. We are losing that connection because now, we are more engaged with our technology than the people around us. In this image, I chose to use string to represent the physical aspect of connection. I also photographed people connecting through their hands and placed those images on two cellphones to represent that we are losing human connection and replacing it with technological connections.”

Juvanni P, Seattle [Youth in Focus]

“I want to show my past and how I have changed, to show me as “Be The Change.” These past few years, I’ve had challenges I wasn’t strong enough to face: going through depression, suffering from multiple personality disorder, trying to live up to standards in my family, and stressing about school. But as I get older, I’ve learned how to overcome these challenges, one by one, some taking longer than others. I have also learned that I am not alone. Others have the same problems, and they can and are willing to help. Be the change doesn’t have to be what you change physically, but can be what you change mentally and emotionally as well. And that can also have a big impact on others around you.”

Jasmine E, Seattle [Youth in Focus]

“Gender roles are the stereotypes you first think of when you think of a man or a woman. It goes unnoticed in everyday life because it has become the “norm.” Everywhere we go, we see pink balloons for girls, blue balloons for boys. It’s weird for us to see a young man planting flowers while his wife mows the lawn. It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but we all need to work on accepting people are going to do what they want, no matter what gender they identify as. We are known as the generation of change, so I hope we can all work together to create the world where anyone can be, feel, and do anything they want.”

Deshun S, 16, Oakland [Ever Forward Club]

“One challenge of being a young man today is to not fail. It’s a lot of pressure today especially for black men and the society I live in. Society expects me to fail they expect me to drop out of school, they expect me to not be something in the future. I don’t want to be nothing. I wanna make an impact on everyone’s lives, I wanna change the world.”

Luis B, 18. Oakland [Ever Forward Club]

“I think one of the challenges that a lot of us men face today is the idea of what it means to be a man and that idea coming from our society. We always have to fight one another as men, we always have to feel superior to one another, we always have to seem cooler, wear the best clothes, have the most girlfriend’s, the best cars. It’s just the idea that we always have to fight one another. I feel like that idea divides us a lot and instead we need to build a brotherhood. Together we stand stronger and the whole idea of what it means to be a man to me now is to speak how I feel and share my emotions. We are supposed to be tough and talk back to people. These ideas from society oppress us especially as young men and women. However young men and women face hard labels like men being the ones that have to work and that the women are the ones who are supposed to be home cleaning. We are being told and taught these things as we grow up so that we become what we’ve been taught.  This affects our future and we don’t see it until it happens to us.”

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Youth Passageways is thrilled to provide a platform in which a wide breadth of perspectives can commingle and paint as comprehensive a picture of our partner base as possible. As such, the views and opinions expressed in individual letters, posts, or media content of any kind do not necessarily reflect or represent the Youth Passageways network as an organization, or collective.

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