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Jr NAA Youth Leadership Summit Approaching

The Jr Newtown Action Alliance is set to host a statewide #HonorWithAction Youth Leadership Summit on Saturday, May 24, at Newtown High School. 

The event is for students middle school through college age, and will discuss issues surrounding the epidemic of gun violence, encourage youth to find their voices and use the power of their voices to inspire change, according to Jr NAA.

#HonorWithAction Connecticut will be a full-day event bringing together youth from all areas of Connecticut to investigate the many issues that contribute to gun violence in America through workshops on mental health, urban violence, writing for publication, healing through the arts, and more, according to a release from Jr NAA.

Mike Vitti, one of the organizers and a sophomore at NHS, said it’s so much more than just a hashtag, “It’s easy to give lip service to something. Say, ‘Yeah, that’s got to change.’ But if you really think about #HonorWithAction, it means taking a stand. Actually standing up and saying ‘enough’ to the violence and actively working to prevent it.” 

At a Jr NAA meeting on Sunday, April 27, everyone nodded at Mike’s statement.

Jr NAA Chair Sarah Clements added, “When we were down in Washington, DC, for the vigil in December, we looked around the cathedral at all the faces from around the country. We could see the impact of gun violence and the effects of actions making a difference. It inspired us to keep moving forward, even when it’s hard.”

The Jr NAA is a chapter of the Newtown Action Alliance, a grassroots organization established in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, working to bring about legislative and cultural changes that will reduce gun violence because gun violence is a public health crisis.

“We have people coming from different backgrounds and experiences. I’m really excited to meet new people and hear new perspectives,” said Miranda Wakeman, another NHS student.

One of the activities to get the conversation going will be a “story exchange” lead by NHS teacher Lee Keylock.

Programs throughout the day will vary in size and format, according to Jr NAA. Colin Goddard, a survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, will host a large group discussion following the showing of his film Living for 32. The day will also present a choice of small interactive workshops on a variety of issues and skill-building session, including publishing and social media, political activism, spirituality, mental health, and healing and advocacy through the arts.

“Colin Goddard once said to me, ‘Find your voice and use it.’ I did and it has been so empowering. I can’t wait for other young people to find this same power within themselves,” said Sarah, who is especially looking forward to the coalition-building workshop. “In the past year I’ve attended many events and met so many fascinating millennials. It’s up to us to change the future. We’ve been building bridges between urban, suburban, and rural communities. I’m ready for us to take the next steps together.”

NHS student Ryan Murphy said she expects the “healing and advocacy through the arts session” to be “really interesting.”

“It can be scary to take a stand on issues, especially controversial ones. Artistic expression can convey messages in a less confrontational way and truly inspire others,” Ryan said.

Ryan also said she suspects she will be inspired by summit speaker Rayma Ramana, the New York Youth Poet Laureate.

Tallie Nikitchyuk, a student at the Newtown Middle School, says she’s looking forward to learning more about how she can become active on causes that are important to her.

“I’ve never been politically active, but there are things I think are important to speak out about. I’ve always felt too young and I’m never really sure how to go about it. I know I’ll be able to take what I learn at the summit and apply it to many things,” said Tallie.

Tallie also said she is already thinking of questions to pose at the “young activists panel” to the panelists who will share their experiences “from the trenches.”

NHS student Elizabeth Charash is passionate about mental health.

“It’s easy to overlook facts or diminish the importance of addressing mental health issues. I want to help fight the stigma,” Elizabeth said. “It’s complicated so there’s lots of lip service and not as much action. I know the Avielle Foundation will help us understand the issues of brain health.”

The Jr Newtown Action Alliance has been financially supported in this summit effort by the Newtown Foundation and individual contributions, as well as by a number of area businesses who have donated goods and services to make this happen.

More details about the summit program and speakers will be posted to the event page on the Jr NAA Facebook page, facebook.com/JrNewtownAction and online registration is available at eventbrite.com/e/honorwithaction-connecticut-a-youth-leadership-summit-on-gun-violence-prevention-registration-10820732101.

Registration is $30 per person through Sunday, May 4, $35 thereafter, with registration open through the day of the event. Scholarships are available. Registration fees include breakfast, lunch, and an evening reception.

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