Empowering Teens, One Conversation at a Time

Written by: Nicholas DellaVecchia, Laila Key, Timmy Lawrence, and Ali Shabazz, Teen Patrons of the Philadelphia City Institute Branch, Free Library of Philadelphia

This post is part of the YALSA Presidential Theme: Youth Activism through Community Engagement

At the Philadelphia City Institute Library, we have a weekly Teen Reading Lounge (TRL) program where teens come in to talk about current events and problems in society in a safe space. This program helps us find things that are really interesting to us and express our real concerns. We find topics we can argue and talk about, and learn how to make points on things we care about.

We’ve read books on topics ranging from teenagers who were sentenced to the death penalty to the lives of transgender teens. These intricate and personal stories are stories we don’t think we would have learned in school. That’s the beauty of this program. It fills the gaps between the narratives of real life people and what school teaches.

At TRL, we allow ourselves to broaden our minds about issues concerning immigration and people of other cultures. We have become more open minded and also more aware of concerns in the LGBTQ community. Not only are the books we read insightful, but the workshops introduce new topics in a fun way and help us see things from different points of view.

For example, we had a workshop that was about gentrification and how different neighborhoods are treated differently. It made us think about why our neighborhoods and others with the most need are at the bottom of the list to receive aid. Without this workshop, we might have shrugged off a lot of things about our neighborhoods but now we see things differently.

Through TRL, we have become better, more empathetic individuals, and more conscious about the world we live in. TRL has the ability to encourage kids with capabilities of greatness to act on their greatness. That’s what we love most about TRL! It enables to act, and that’s what every great society needs – a strong group of young motivated teens to change the world.

Through TRL, we have become better, more empathetic individuals, and more conscious about the world we live in

Another program at our library that encourages us to speak up is the Social Justice Symposium for Teens. At the first Symposium, we got to meet Renee Watson. She started her presentation with sharing a poem about her childhood living in Portland. We were mesmerized by her writing and how her life was very similar to ours. This experience inspired one of us to pursue a writing career.

And at last summer’s Symposium, we met Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give. Her book says that police brutality in the black community is real, and that it’s important. We’ve seen that police brutality gets overlooked by certain communities, and talking about it in the library made it possible for more people to get involved.

We had several different workshops at the Symposiums, but two stood out. In “Youth in the Movement,” we learned about being a social activist as a young person and how we could get more involved in our community. Another workshop, “Juvenile Debtors Prison,” which was taught by a local attorney, was especially powerful because of the examples the instructor gave of teens in prison in New York City and the brutality they faced.

Libraries should do programs like this because teens need more engaging activities within their communities. They need to be able to interact with their peers and talk about problems that are important to them. And they need adults to set good examples for them.

Libraries should do programs like this because teens need more engaging activities within their communities. They need to be able to interact with their peers and talk about problems that are important to them. And they need adults to set good examples for them.

Visit the Youth Activism through Community Engagement wiki page for resources to help you and the teens you work with start conversations in your community.

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Teen Reading Lounge is a program of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and by federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds administered by the Office of the Commonwealth Libraries.

The Social Justice Symposium for Teens is made possible with generous support from the Philadelphia City Institute Board of Managers.

For more information about either of these programs, contact Erin Hoopes, Branch Manager, Philadelphia City Institute Branch, Free Library of Philadelphia –  hoopese@freelibrary.org

 

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