Re:Action4Inclusion Conference brings increased momentum to the movement!

Re:Action4Inclusion held its 9th annual youth conference last weekend at the YMCA Geneva Park in Orillia. This year’s theme was Be artists of people, referencing young people’s ability to bring authentic inclusion to their communities.

“It was really about getting people thinking about community,” said Community Living Ontario’s Provincial Youth Partnership and Project Advisor, Emily Branje, who helped make the event a reality, “and looking at community like a blank canvas gave young people the chance to think about ‘who can be brought into our vision of what a community should be?’”

“What are the fundamental cornerstones of community, and how are young people experiencing their community. How can youth take ownership and make spaces for all youth to thrive in community?”

About 150 people were in attendance throughout the weekend, including educators, allies, students, alumni of the movement, and representatives from 20 Community Living organizations and 36 schools from across Ontario.

Conference host Emily Wilcox really appreciated the end of each day, when “everyone starts talking about what they enjoyed about the conference and what they learned that day.”

She spoke of a young woman whose world was seemingly changed by the event.

“She came up to me and told me that she felt so strongly, now, about the topic of inclusion, that she just wanted to go home and do something about it.”

“A lot of people,” Wilcox continued, “didn’t even know that inclusion was an issue, really.  They came up and said ‘Wow, I really didn’t know the ‘R’ word was offensive,’ for example.”

The Friday night consisted of a workshop on the meaning of community, followed by a panel of adults and youth who discussed the true meaning of inclusion. Afterward, attendees were invited to go ‘shopping for ideas’ at a Change Maker Market Place.

Keynote Speaker Ryan Porter inspired his audience with a presentation on how to build a life worth getting excited about.

Perhaps the most powerful segment of the event, according to Community Living Ontario’s Manager of Family and Youth projects, Linda White, was the Youth Speaker series, in which youth and adult allies gave frank and influential speeches on their experiences.

“They had worked with Emily [Branje],” she explained, “to practice speeches that they felt young people in the room need to hear about the intended purpose of why this movement even exists.”

“People felt a real connection to hearing from people that they could relate to, like their peers.”

To wrap up, Dr. Andrew Campbell spoke on Sunday about Diversity Leadership, encouraging leaders to have a consciousness for others’ experiences, and gave them tools to challenge the status quo.

Branje has experienced the power of the Re:Action4Inclusion movement firsthand, having been a youth participant and, subsequently, an adult mentor before being hired by Community Living Ontario to work on the project.

“It’s really been a full-circle experience [for me],” she explained, “and it’s really important to me to see that youth are continuing to take up the challenge to be leaders in their school communities—to change the social framework of our schools and of the broader community.”

“The conference builds so much momentum for the movement and gives people a chance to acknowledge the experiences that are being shared across the province,” according to White.

“They can use those experiences to inform change and really be a part of something that’s bigger than themselves—that will benefit them, but also their broader network of people in the community.”

“Youth don’t realize the power of their own experience,” Branje stated, “and it’s so amazing to watch them come to the realization that what they are experiencing is powerful, and that they are valuable. They began to realize that they have a powerful role to play in bringing about change and that their thoughtful acts of citizenship are needed to change the way society perceives others.”

Re:Action4Inclusion plans on working with the youth advocates throughout the coming year to implement additional Change Projects and aims to launch a digital magazine for people to continue sharing their experiences. The movement is inviting change makers across the province to build the magazine as part of a provincial collective of leaders.

You can be a part of that process by checking out their hashtag, #builditwithus.

Daniel Share-Strom, Community Living Ontario