ABOUT THE EVENT
In its inaugural year, The International Congress of Youth Voices united nearly 100 students, ages 16 to 20, from around the world to learn with and from accomplished writers, activists, and elected officials. Youth delegates came to us from the United States, Iraq, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Syria, Ireland, Australia, Iceland, Burundi, Honduras, Cuba, Denmark, Venezuela, Zambia, and Nepal. The event, founded by author Dave Eggers (co-founder of 826 National) and nonprofit leader Amanda Uhle, took place August 3, 4, and 5, 2018, in San Francisco.
The International Congress of Youth Voices is an annual event, and plans for the second gathering will be announced in January 2019.
Student delegates are chosen based on their commitment to leadership and social justice and their passion and eloquence as writers. The event is designed to provide a path to leadership for all delegates and represents a continuum from students who have exhibited potential in local writing and tutoring programs to writers and activists who have already made notable achievements at a very young age.
Politics of the world affect young people as much as anyone else, and they have little to no voice as major decisions are made. The Congress was founded as a means to amplify their ideas and energy and to unite young people for a weekend of collaboration.
In August of 2018 the first class of delegates met for three unforgettable days together. Friday evening, they enjoyed dinner during a sunset boat cruise around the San Francisco Bay. Civil rights icon the Honorable Congressman John Lewis gave remarks after dinner and took questions from individual students and offered them encouragement. On Saturday, the students arrived at the San Francisco Public Library to find an exhibition of their own work; the library developed a display at its Grove Street entrance of student-written publications from around the world. The rest of the day was spent hearing from and interacting with powerful voices in journalism, activism, media, and beyond. Ev Williams of Twitter offered advice. Alia Malek spoke about her work in Syria and her family’s immigration experiences. Brian Yorkey talked about making 13 Reasons Why and the importance of teen mental health. After an enriching day at the library, students walked to the nearby Nourse Theater for a special conversation about activism and storytelling with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Later, when the curtain opened onto the stage full of our youth delegates, 1200 audience members roared with applause and then listened to Adichie, Khaled Hosseini, and Jose Antonio Vargas speak alongside several of the young delegates. They spoke about gun violence, about feminism, racial equity, homelessness, and much more. Sunday morning, the delegates gathered at San Francisco’s War Memorial and worked together on a written statement about their time together and about their collective plans for the future. The manifesto they created--by the youth, for the youth--was published by The Guardian on August 12, 2018 and reached by its worldwide audience of 20 million.
The weekend of the Congress has ended, but our student delegates remain engaged in their work and connected to us. Congress staff members are helping students write and place op-ed style writing in major publications. We’re connecting with high school teachers who want to bring our delegates as in-person or virtual guest speakers to their classrooms. We’re fielding numerous requests from organizations, educators, and individuals who want to nominate young people for the 2019 event. And we’re looking toward the future with the confidence, hope, and heart these young people have shaken free in all of us.