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LGBTQ youth of color activists lead nationwide summit
by Melissa Wasserman

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Over 40 LGBTQ youth of color, representing approximately 17 organizations, from 16 cities across the nation gathered in Chicago to share activist tactics in the Connect Our Roots organizing summit Feb. 15-17.

New York City-based organization FIERCE, dedicated to building the leadership and power of LGBTQ youth of color, assembled the three-day grassroots organizing summit. Affinity Community Services, Broadway Youth Center, Gender Just and Young Women's Empowerment Project (YWEP) worked in partnership with FIERCE, serving as the program's hosting committee.

Nathaniel Phillipps, a Las Vegas resident, traveled to Chicago to participate in the summit due to what he describes as a lack of resources for queer young people of color in Las Vegas.

"Las Vegas isn't necessarily known for being community and family-oriented and that's a problem we have," he said. "So I wanted to come here and connect with other awesome activists and organizers from across the country, learn from FIERCE's rich history about how to make life and community better for people my age in Las Vegas."

The weekend began with a panel open to the public at the Chicago Freedom School located in the south loop. The panel of nine LGBTQ youth of color organizers from FIERCE and various Chicago-based organizations led the evening's discussion with approximately 60 people, including summit participants, youth organizers from around Chicago and adult allies in attendance.

The panel featured FIERCE members Ana Conner and Lee Jimenez; Dominique McKinney, site co-director of Young Women's Empowerment Project (YWEP);Daphnie Williams, YWEP's administrative coordinator; Reyna Wences, co-founder of Immigrant Youth Justice League; Rossette, an Amigas Latinas Organizer; Veronica Morris-Moore, a member of Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY); and Fresco Steez and Alexis, youth organizers for Affinity Community Services. Coordinator of Youth Programs at Chicago Freedom School Tony Alvarado-Rivera served as panel moderator.

"I just want to build relationships with these folks and become allies," said Jimenez, a FIERCE member since 2008. "I just think it's empowering to see a bunch of queer and trans youth of color in this space especially because we're very marginalized and we're looked at like as we don't care about these issues and we don't take the initiative to change these issues. I think the summit proves that's not true. There's a whole bunch of queer and trans youth of color here right now that are willing to learn that and have so much knowledge about the issues that affect them and what's going on in their communities."

Each member of the panel discussed the history of their respective organizations, current campaigns each are involved with, strategies as well as sharing experiences as LGBTQ youth of color. The evening's event evening concluded with a performance from Chicago singer-songwriter Kokumo, an African-American transgender woman.

"There's plenty of adult spaces out there, but we really need to create a youth space where young people can actually talk," said Krystal Portalatin, co-director and co-founder of FIERCE. "I think one thing that were trying to figure out are the common grounds that we all organize from. A lot of what we talked about tonight [in the panel] was the intersectionality of our work and our identities."

Throughout the rest of the weekend, according to a summit agenda, Connect Our Roots continued to focus on youth building organizing skills and share organizing models and strategies. Participants discussed specific conditions they are facing in their regions, lead political education sessions on topics such as LGBTQ history and immigration, and conducted visionary planning to build the presence, capacity and effectiveness of LGBTQ youth organizing across the United States.

"FIERCE is really hopeful this is going to be the first step in building a national network of LGBT youth of color organizers," said Portalatin. "We're looking for some direction with some support from everybody here and to be able to do that together. Chicago is doing really amazing work and it's been really inspiring and we've been really inspired."

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