Last Monday I had the pleasure of attending Chicago Public Library’s Teen Volume conference, an annual conference for teen librarians and educators. The theme for the event was “Now Is the Time: Upstanders and Bystanders,” chosen with the aim of
…making positive change in our communities and standing up against youth violence and intolerance….[And to] explore how teens can create positive community change through art (literature, theatre and more) and social media…
It was an informative day, which began with a presentation of Steppenwolf Theater Company’s “How Long Will I Cry?: Voices of Youth Violence,” an exploration of the “Now Is The Time” project, and a keynote address by Markus Zusak. It was exciting to see the passion with which adults believed in the value of teens as creators, innovators, and catalysts for change. There was an emphasis on finding ways to let their voices be heard, whether it is through theater, interviews, music, or art.
Based on a collection of interviews, this production tells the stories of myriad young Chicagoans who have been affected by violence and inspires the search for postive change. The piece will run at Steppenwolf (school groups interested in attending can find more information here) before touring different libraries in the city. In addition to the production itself, “Steppenwolf will host digital media workshops for teens that encourage critical thinking, recognizing moral choices, acting as an upstander in one’s community and making teen voices heard. These performances and workshops will be presented free of charge” (Steppenwolf for Young Adults web page).
Another key player (and perhaps the dominant player) in the conference and the “citywide conversation” on youth violence was the organization Now Is The Time. As defined on their website, “Now Is The Time is a citywide initiative inspiring young people to make positive change in their communities and stop youth violence and intolerance.” They are hosting workshops, events, and performances for youth and youth educators throughout Chicago. After the Steppenwolf production, I attended a breakout session that introduced a group of us to the Now Is The Time website and its media-creation project, which allows teens to share their responses to violence in their communities artistically via YouTube, Flikr, Pixlr (a free online photo editor), and Soundcloud. It’s a interesting way of giving teens the tools and the space for self-expression. There are lots of good tools and opportunities on the Now Is The Time website, especially one that teachers can apply to their classrooms.
And finally, I’ll briefly mention Markus Zusak. He was utterly charming and adorable, I have to say. As there was so much talk throughout the day about self-expression and being heard, Zusak spoke about his writing process and how he struggled to find his own voice prior to writing The Book Thief. The greatest takeaway from his address however, was the reminder to us all to
Never, ever, ever underestimate teenagers. ~ Markus Zusak