CYCLE Summer Learning Series: Part 3
One of CYCLE’s core values is learning, specifically to create a culture of inquiry where ideas, information, and discoveries are exchanged. Over the summer, CYCLE staff have had opportunities to facilitate and attend a number of learning events. During the last few weeks of summer, we will be publishing a series of blog posts on lessons, reflections, and takeaways from those learning opportunities. Next up, Keith Catone, Kristy Luk, and Catalina Perez reflect on the Free Minds Free People Conference.
Free Minds Free People Conference, Minneapolis, MN
Catalina Perez, Keith Catone, and Kristy Luk recently returned from a whirlwind long weekend in the Twin Cities for the bi-annual Free Minds Free People (FMFP) conference. FMFP builds a movement to develop and promote education as a tool for liberation.
Coming to FMFP always feels like a family reunion, particularly because we get to be in community with young people, educators, and activists who are passionate about education justice. It was so special to share this space with ten organizations from the New England Youth Organizing Network (NEYON), several of whom presented their work for a national audience! The theme for FMFP this year was “Getting Free, Imagining Freedom,” and we witnessed NEYON groups’ work to educate and fight for student rights in schools, create alternatives to punitive discipline in schools, and fight for undocumented students’ access to education. All of these groups with which we have the privilege of working represent young people’s leadership in not only imagining a freer world, but also enacting these dreams of freedom in the present.
One of the ideas resonating most deeply for me from one of the plenary sessions is that imagining freedom does not only mean we are imagining a future state--we should also search our past for the deep ancestral knowledge from our pre-colonial communities. I would add, though, that watching these young people who shared their own activist journeys as part of their workshops reinforces the idea that even as we are fighting to get free and imagining freedom, young people historically and presently are at the helm of radically imagining these freer worlds in the here and now. They are not the future leaders of tomorrow. They are at the forefront of our freedom movements now.
NEYON groups came back together for the New England Youth Leadership Institute, from August 5th-7th. Be on the lookout for amazing youth-led work coming out of New England in the upcoming year!
During the Friday morning plenary session that kicked off FMFP, Dr. Bettina Love shared that “you can’t do justice work if you don’t know who you are.”
Moments after the plenary session ended, as I was weaving through the crowded walkways to find the workshop session I planned to attend, I ran into a close friend and colleague of CYCLE’s, Delia Arellano-Weddleton, who is our program officer at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. NMEF is also a longtime supporter of FMFP, and Delia has seen me at multiple conferences, as well as even more gatherings and convenings of NMEF grantees that CYCLE plans and coordinates. Delia smiled at me and remarked, “It’s always so good to see you at home, in your element.”
Now, I love my work at CYCLE, and the gatherings and convenings we pull together are meaningful and engaging. However, FMFP is something different. There is an element of feeling at home that it instills, similar to Kristy’s description of the conference as a family reunion. I believe a big part of this feeling is due to the ways in which FMFP supports people to find and be themselves, fully. Delia’s comment struck me in that FMFP is a place where I not only think I am supported to know myself better, but also where others can get to know me more fully. This point was driven home even more deeply when a friend of mine, who wasn’t able to attend, said that she’d been following pictures of FMFP on social media. She told me that my smiles in the pictures seemed so real and full of life. I reflected on these smiles and believe that they were there because it feels good when you are in a space where can be confident in who you are and really get to know yourself and others. FMFP cultivates community so that people who do justice work can get to know who they are together. For that, I am grateful for all my FMFP family.
I first had the opportunity to attend the Free Minds Free People conference in 2017. I didn’t really know what to expect but knew from my colleagues that I would be entering a space that was completely different from any other. I was blown away to learn about the stories of resistance across the country and to have the opportunity to connect with folks doing amazing, challenging, and necessary work for liberation. FMFP 2017 came at the perfect time for me and served as a healing space to really begin understanding who I was as a person and who I wanted to be within our fight for justice.
FMFP 2019 came with much excitement and eagerness. I wanted to connect with people that I had the opportunity to develop relationships with through my work at CYCLE. As Keith mentioned, walking through the crowd brought this sense of family and a sense of comfort. I was ready to jump in and take in as much as I could. I was excited to see familiar faces of youth I have known and could not wait to hear about their experience at Free Minds Free People. At the same time I also had this extreme pride for being around people from my home state in another community. My goal for FMFP this year was to learn as much as possible about the work in Minneapolis and across the country and take a little piece of it back to my home state. My love for Rhode Island has grown immensely since I’ve gotten older, and anything that can make my community a more welcoming place is at the top of my priorities. While listening to Bettina Love speak during one of the plenaries, she mentioned that her community loved her and took care of her as a young person and that we needed to start there to be able to take care of each other. I know it’s such a simple concept, but, since hearing her words, I’ve made a conscious effort to talk to more people in my community, especially youth. We live in a world that constantly throws negativity at youth, and a simple hello or conversation can show that we care and value them. This isn’t by any means a new learning from me but more so a reminder to take care of my community even when I feel I am overwhelmed and busy with other parts of life. Thank you FMFP and Bettina Love for that reminder.