Participants at the Rural Youth Assembly in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2010. (Photo by Shawn Poynter/Daily Yonder)

Ten years after the first Rural Youth Assembly in Santa Fe, New Mexico, some of its participants will return to the next youth summit to mentor a new generation of young people.

“It’s a major milestone in the life of the Rural Assembly,” said Whitney Kimball Coe, coordinator of the Rural Assembly, which is producing the Youth Summit.

The Rural Assembly is a national network of community leaders and organizations focused on expanding opportunities in small towns and rural areas. The Rural Assembly produced the first Youth Assembly in 2010.

“Many of the alumni from that first [youth summit] are now in the midst of careers that are intersecting with the Rural Assembly network, whether it’s rural development, policy, advocacy, or local organizing,” Coe said.

(The Rural Assembly is a project of the Center for Rural Strategies, which also publishes the Daily Yonder. The Daily Yonder is a media sponsor of the Rural Youth Assembly.)

The 2020 Youth Summit will be held in McAllen, Texas, in the U.S.-Mexico border region on April 2-5, 2020. Organizers are currently accepting applications to fill approximately 50 slots. The application deadline is January 31. Individuals and organizations may also nominate young people to attend the conference.

Young people selected to participate will have their travel and other expenses covered by the organizers.

Besides U.S. residents, organizers hope the group will be joined by peers from Canada and Mexico.

Kim Phinney, another Youth Assembly organizer, said the event is designed to help young people become better advocates for their rural communities both locally and nationally.

“We are continuing to build a pipeline of rural and native young people into engagement with the work of the Rural Assembly and partner organizations going forward,” Phinney said in an interview with the Daily Yonder.

One of the goals of the summit is to help young people connect events in their communities to larger issues affecting the nation. The event will also explore public policy solutions to address those issues.

“Rarely are there opportunities for rural and Native youth to come together from really diverse experiences and regions of the country, and to be in conversation with each other about the issues and opportunities they see in their communities,” Phinney said.

The U.S.-Mexico border city of McAllen was not chosen by accident.

Phinney said that Marlene Chavez, an alumnus of the Santa Fe Summit, and Abraham Diaz, a rural activist from Rio Grande Valley, proposed McAllen as the site of the 2020 youth summit. 

“Marlene looked at us three years ago at the [Rural Assembly’s] Building Civic Courage event and both Marlene and Abraham were like, ‘We’re just really invisible and it would be incredible if the Rural Assembly did something in South Texas’,” said Phinney.

Coe said being on the border will shine a spotlight on immigration issues. Youth need to be part of that conversation, she said.

Chavez and Diaz will help moderate discussions on that topic.

The summit’s agenda is being built upon the concept of borderlands created by Chicana feminist and writer Gloria Anzaldua. 

Rio Grande Valley was home for Anzaldua and a place she wrote from. The conversations at the summit will focus on the meaning and influence of those particular geographies on the lives of young people and their efforts in building their collective future.

“The very literal geographical borderlands are where we are, but also, what does that mean for all of us and how we live each and every day, and how we do this work,” said Phinney. 

“We can use the [concept of] borderlands as ways to connect each other and strengthen all of us, and collaborate, and help young people see the ways in which we all then create and use the borderlands to harm and to hurt each other as well,” she said.

The Rural Youth Assembly is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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