Girlvolution: The Movement Behind the Conference

by Reagan Jackson

“Girlvolution isn’t just a day,” says Jane Hinton the Executive Director of Powerful Voices, a non-profit committed to helping girls realize their dreams. “It’s a mind set and a movement of truly valuing and holding and creating space for youth voice.”

200 people gathered at the Rainier Vista Boys and Girl’s Club for the seventh annual Girlvolution. What Molly Pencke, Devon de Leña, and Rita Alcantara founded as an opportunity for young women to say what’s on their minds has turned into a youth led social justice conference.

“One of the things I always tell everyone about Girlvolution,” says Hinton. “it’s like no conference that you ever go to. At least I haven’t ever been to a conference where young people are truly the center as far as the MCs, the performers, and the presenters.”

Hinton loves to see young people in the spotlight. “ One of my favorite things is to see the adults in the background doing the things like making lunch and cleaning up,” said Hinton. “I mean it just completely flips most other spaces where adults are in front of the room and often young people are in the back making things happen. And here instead it’s the adults who are the supporters.”

The Girlvolution is the culmination of Powerful Voices’ Activista Program, a 12 week paid internship where young women that are a part of the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative gain the skills they need to put together and present their own workshop. This year there were 13 workshops on topics ranging from sexual harassment and teen suicide to ableism and Autism and girl’s athletics.

PV alum Vaughn’nee Walker and Deqa Mumin MCed while Tyra Davis, also a former Activista provided the tunes. There were exhibits by Coyote Central and Wing Luke YouthCAN, a resource fair staffed by partnering organization and performances by poets from Youth Speaks and Young Women Empowered (Y-WE).

“I love seeing other workshops from other young ladies,” said D.J. Tyra Davis who gave a workshop on teen drop outs at the very first Girlvolution. “Ever since I’ve been a part of the program I feel like I just can’t leave.”

Davis loves volunteering at Girlvolution and says that giving a workshop really helped built her confidence. “I’m not a public speaker so I was already like hella nervous about this,” explained Davis. “I don’t like attention on me. It’s an insecurity that I’ve had, but that’s one thing I really like about Powerful Voices ‘cause they let me have my show and that’s just a growing area that I’ve been working on since then and now its just been better.”

Davis put together a video of other youth she interviewed on the topic of why teenagers drop out of school. “I just wanted to reach out to the youth only. I didn’t want to speak out to adults.” Davis felt that though many adults discussed her topic, there wasn’t much youth voice on the subject and she wanted to change that.

“This is my second Girlvolution,” says Maria Young, a participant in Young Women Empowered (Y-WE)’s Youth Leadership Council. “I went with my friends from Y-WE my first time. It was about two years ago and I went to support Y-WE in it and I found a lot of powerful people that inspired me and helped me pull through and gave me a lot of life advice on being a colored person.”

This year six girls from Y-WE joined the Activistas as conference presenters. “I never thought [I would present at Girlvolution]. It’s like these people are amazing. I only hope I can live up to them,” said Young.

Young partnered with Namaka Dekker to present their workshop on Cultural Appropriation vs. Cultural Appreciation. “The reason I chose my topic is because I felt like it resonated with me. I come from Southern parts of Africa which people don’t really go to. So my heritage is really different. And people always judge me on my skin color, my outfits or how I talk.”

Over 40 people attended their workshop. “My workshop was amazing,” said Young. “The outcome was incredible. The people were incredible. The knowledge that people brought to all of our discussions was just so real and raw and people brought these questions that needed to be clarified and I was able to clarify them for them.”

Jazmine Jones, age 14, also presented a workshop for the first time. “I’m proud of how the workshop turned out,” said Jones. “I was scared at first, but it made some really life changing things just to hear everyone else has to say about my topic.”

Jones chose the topic of depression. “It’s from personal experiences. I’ve dealt with a lot of situations.” Those situations drove Jones to a depression so deep she was afraid she might not find her way out. “I want to be able to grow up or just like feel like I have the power to grow up or just like I can control my life to be able to not end it,” she says. And having the opportunity to connect with the greater community and turn her personal experiences into a workshop that people could relate to made her feel powerful.

“There’s 83% of teens that don’t even get treated or like that don’t get help with their depression until they’re like 50. And that’s crazy,” says Jones. “And almost half of the kids with depression end up committing suicide. And its like I feel like people should talk about that topic because I feel like its not talked [about] enough.”

Girlvolution moves youth voice from the margins to center and in the process not only gives girls a platform for self expression, but the benefit of knowing that people in their community care what about they have to say.

“I guess the thing that stands out for me is people…there was one woman one year who said to me ‘I am leaving today and I want to tell everyone I know what I learned today’” said Hinton. “And it wasn’t just what she had learned around the topics, I think the workshop she went to was on teen prostitution, but it was also what is like to be in a space where girls are the leaders and the experts in their own experience. She was just really blown away by that and I am every year.”

 Featured image by Youth in Focus