This guest post on our blog is from Isabella Gavanski, one of the Youth participants in this year's Intergenerational Spring Seminar - The Colors of Inequality: Costs and Consequences.
My name is Isabella Gavanski, I am 15 years old and I attend the Lakeshore Unitarian Universalist Church in the Montreal, Quebec area. I recently had the incredible opportunity to attend the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) Intergenerational Spring Seminar and I have to say it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had so far in my life.
To begin, the Seminar was highly educational. A tremendous amount of information was shared with us about the topic: The Colors of Inequality - Costs and Consequences. We learned about inequality within countries, how it affects our economic systems and politics, how it is connected to climate change, incarceration, solitary confinement and much more. It was an eye-opening experience, with many fascinating presentations and astonishing facts along the way. But that wasn’t all: the educational component was only one element of the Seminar. It was also an incredibly enriching social experience. I was also able to meet and share my thoughts with many other Unitarian Youth during our stay at the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York. I also had the opportunity to listen and learn from the adults when we had Collaboration Group meetings in between the panels.
One of the presentations that was most shocking to me was about solitary confinement. The presenter, Five Mualimm-ak, gave an enlightening presentation about the justice system and his time in solitary confinement. The facts and statistics he shared with us were eye-opening and his story was tragic. Apparently, there are 80,000 - 100,000 Americans being tortured in solitary confinement right at this moment. In New York State, 5 out of 6 incarcerated people are in solitary confinement for non-violent behavior. But the statistic I found most horrific was that 48% of those in extreme isolation in NYC are children — that is, under 18 years old! The effects of solitary confinement are very serious, as it can cause brain damage, temporary blindness and other serious physical and mental health problems including insanity. To make the whole matter even worse, people in solitary confinement are routinely denied access to medical treatment and services. Those facts seemed so unbelievable. How could they possibly be true? I was shocked at how inhuman we can be toward our fellow humans.
Another presentation that I found to be particularly moving and emotional was a rap song done by David E. Kirkland. I’m sure his rap deeply touched every single person in the room. He spoke of racism in the education system and relayed some of his experiences as a child living with a single mom. He also told us of a student who just needed a push in the right direction but was instead scolded by his teacher, which damaged his will to learn. His words were so beautifully written and spoken, I was absolutely mesmerized. Through his descriptive presentation and rap, he showed us what it is like in a world where you are treated differently because of the color of your skin. I was deeply affected by his music and what I learned.
There were Collaboration group meetings in between all of the panels where I would have the chance to talk with adults and Youth alike about what we had learned and what we thought about the topics discussed. I had been chosen to lead one of the Collaboration groups, so I was able to facilitate the discussions and make sure everyone had the chance to share with the group if they wanted to. This role made the experience even more interesting and challenging for me. We had some intense conversations about our opinions on some of the panels and it was great hearing what everyone thought and seeing the vast diversity of opinions. It was always really interesting hearing a point of view that differed from my own and I was constantly reflecting upon what exactly I believed and thought about each of the presented subjects.
Another part of the Seminar that I loved was the Unitarian Universalist vibe that was all around me during the week I was there. I will try and describe it to you. There is a certain feeling of respect when you are in a room full of like-minded people. And the atmosphere in a room full of UUs is one of acceptance, friendship, respect and love. Everyone who attended had many chances to make new friends and hear opinions expressed by fellow Youth. I constantly wanted to hug the people around me and plop down on top of my new friends in a cuddle-puddle. I met many Youth at the UU-UNO Spring Seminar who I now consider family and I’m sure I will see many of them again next year.
We also had advisers showing us around New York and helping us through the complicated Metro System which was always a fun time as it was my first visit to the city. But, without a doubt, since I have an interest in UN issues and have attended Model UN conferences at Harvard University, McGill University, and John Abbot College with my high school this year, one of the highlights of my trip had to be sitting in the actual seats at the UN Headquarters!
All in all, my UU-UNO experience was a great one. I made some great friends, learned a lot about Inequality and was able to talk about it all in a meaningful way with the highly curious and intelligent people around me. I would definitely recommend going to the UU-UNO Intergenerational Spring Seminar to anyone who wants to have a fun, yet very educational experience. I will never forget my time at the Spring Seminar, and hope to be able to attend the Seminar again next year.