On August 3rd, two WordPlay students headed to San Francisco for the International Congress of Youth Voices (ICYV), a gathering for 100 young writers from around the world to learn with and from accomplished writers, activists and elected officials. The weekend was full of panels, guest speakers, writing and discussion, all around the topic of using your voice as a vehicle for change.
Thanks to a few generous donors, WordPlay was able to send two youth delegates to the Congress: Daphne Constantinides and Azaria Pittman-Carter. They recently gave us an overview of their experience.
1) If someone asked you, "What is the ICYV?" how would you describe it in your own words?
Azaria (A): To me, the ICYV is the coming together of youth—a diverse group of youth, from all across the region, from all across the world—in order to network, show each other what we’re made of and also make change. So I feel like, all in all, the ICYV is the epitome of youth change. It lets us all come together and meet as one.
Daphne (D): At the beginning of ICYV, I would've described it as a conference that brought 100 writers and activists together for a weekend of keynote speeches and workshops. At the end of ICYV, I would say it's a gathering to encourage and inspire youth to write and pursue activism as a means to hone their voices. It's also just a great place to network and meet people from so many different backgrounds. One minute you were talking to a delegate from Zambia, and the next, a delegate from Australia.
2) Did you have any expectations going into the conference? If so, how did those play out (or not)?
A: [I knew] it was a lot of like, high-top people. There was Chimamanda [Ngozi Adichie] and John Lewis… I was on the plane, and I didn’t know the dress code. Me and Daphne were even talking to each other like, “What should we wear? Should we wear button-up shirts? Is it gonna be professional all weekend?” We didn’t know what to expect from the other students also. [But] when we got there, what we were wearing matched what other people were wearing. Everybody was casual. Everybody was cool .
D: Going into the conference, I expected it to be just about writing. They asked us to send in samples of our own writing, and it was hosted by Dave Eggers, who founded 826 [National] and was a published author himself. I was surprised to see that it was actually the blend of activism and writing. As the week continued, I realized that I can actually be an activist through writing. After the Congress, I would actually consider myself more of an artivist* than an activist, something that we stressed during the last day as we were writing our manifesto**.
3) How did your experience with WordPlay prepare you for ICYV?
A: I know it was the Congress of “Youth” Voices, but we had to interact with a lot of high-top, adult people—you know, the artists. The director of 13 Reasons Why talked to us on a panel. People like that, that were high-top. You got to know how to carry yourself, and how to present yourself, and how to talk to those people. So working [at WordPlay] in an atmosphere where I do that often and on a daily basis, it helped me prepare for that. So I can say that WordPlay prepared me tremendously.
D: One of the things that WordPlay helped me with was definitely confidence. Before I went to WordPlay, I was very passive, spoke little to none, and hated sharing my writing. Workshops at WordPlay, especially performance workshops at WordPlay, taught me that my writing is for nobody but me, and I can actually say something through my writing. Being exposed to spoken word has helped turned my whisper into a strong voice. Because of that, I was able to share that at ICYV.
4) What was your favorite part? And/or, what was a moment that particularly stood out to you from the weekend?
A: Ah, there were a lot of favorite parts. I can say when we wrote the manifesto. I was the scribe—I was actually the one writing everything down, people’s thoughts. Sometimes in the group we had people that didn’t agree on the same points, but just being able to show empathy to others in their situations... We all came together and we all came to the consensus of what artivism was, what activism was, and how it played in with [the manifesto].
The day before, we were talking about it, among the other students. We were in the Lyft, and we were like, “You know, writing this manifesto tomorrow, I don’t think it’s gonna go well. Like a bunch of us in one room trying to come to one consensus about one thing, I don’t know how this is gonna go.” And we were all talking about that, just being there and it goes smoothly and everybody conducts themselves. It was amazing. So I loved that part.
D: I have 2 favorite parts because I can't pick one. The first one was when I met Jose Antonio Vargas. Being half Filipino, I didn't really have any Filipino writers to look up to, especially because I was looking into writing. I came across his documentary White People, which I loved because we share an interest in white identity, and I loved his essay in the New York Times where he came out as an undocumented immigrant. When he was there in person talking to and with me, he was still the inspiration that made me want to be a writer (also the person who made my mom believe that I can be a writer).
The second one was the last day when we wrote the manifesto. Going into it, I think all the delegates were very confused and had a very low expectation of the outcome of the manifesto. I mean, we didn't really know what we were doing, but we owned it. The manifesto that came out of that was probably the best thing I've ever done in two hours. I was in the "International Network of Youth Voices" and our group vibed off each other in such a unique way. I walked away from that wanting more and ready to continue that at home.
5) What will you take from this experience going forward?
A: I always wanted to start something myself. I always thought about starting something myself. But I’ve never had the courage of doing it, just because of how different I looked, my homosexuality, what I stood for. And then just hearing from this artist [at the ICYV], Rabih Alameddine, he was like, “You know, I’m gay. I’m an artist. I thought when I produced my books, people were gonna talk about me, they were gonna bash me.” He said, “Nobody cared. Nobody gave a damn. The world kept going on.” He was like, “You gotta do what you’re gonna do, and start things up.” ...That’s the biggest thing that I did take from the Congress is to push everything away. And if you’ve got a dream, and you’ve got something, just push forward, and push your idea forward.
I got a project for myself coming up right now. I’ve actually got a PowerPoint on my computer that I’m making. I want to make change with my own little project, and my organization. So I don’t want to give all the details away… but stay tuned, because it’s gonna be nice. That’s all I can say.
D: I have a voice that matters and it can bring about change. I also learned that everyone should seek to find common ground and employ the use of collective empathy. That will change the world.
6) Is there anything else you would like people to know?
A: In a nutshell, I want to thank WordPlay for giving me the opportunity to go on this Congress, to even experience this and meet different people. The reason I’m still talking to some friends from the Congress is because of WordPlay. I took my first plane ride because of this. I met so many different people. I learned so many different things. I was in California for the first time, you know? I’d never been to the West Coast. So just, doing stuff like that. In a nutshell, I can say, it was amazing. The people were nice, but I’m appreciative in the end for this whole experience as one.
D: I just want to thank Desirae [Hosley] for giving me this opportunity. I know there were some things set against me in regards to this trip, but she kept pushing for me to go. She's also one of the best teachers I've ever had and is almost like a second mother to me. I'm where I am today because of things that she's taught me, and she deserves the world.
For more information about the International Congress of Youth Voices, visit www.internationalcongressofyouthvoices.com. You can also read about the Congress in The Guardian, which reported on ICYV throughout the weekend.
*“Artivism” is a term coined by another youth delegate. In Azaria’s words: “My friend Iman came up with it when we were in the group. And she was like, “You know, I don’t feel like we should call ourselves ‘activists.’ I feel like we should call ourselves ‘artivists,’ because you can make change in so many different ways. You can do it by singing, by dancing, you can take so many platforms and come together as one to make change. So I don’t want to say that I’m just an activist. I’ll call myself an artivist.”
**The manifesto is a “platform for change,” a collaborative written piece by the youth delegates of the ICYV, outlining their hopes and plans for positive change in the world. Read the manifesto here.