This past summer, I joined other high school and college students from the Youth Volunteer Corps of Reading in Pennsylvania to create and host our very first Ally Workshop.
As a part of our Stand Together Against Racism (STAR) Initiative, this youth-created, youth-facilitated workshop aimed to teach community members how to and what it means to be an ally and served as a platform for anyone who wants to create a better world.
It started with planning. Lots and lots of planning. First, our STAR educational shorts — 5-minute videos about microaggressions, systemic racism, implicit bias, colorism, and of course, allyship (with examples, explanations, and tips for a better future) — were made. Next, we created the outline of the workshop with the help of our adult leaders. We aimed to make the most of our four-hour time limit with segments about active listening and how to connect with others even if you have never experienced what they have gone through. Conversations about prevalent racial issues in our community, and interactive, thought-provoking activities and simulations were intended to give everyone a little practice at actively being an ally. Each part of the workshop was designed to foster education and understanding, teaching the participants and ourselves the importance and significance of being an ally.
When all the planning was complete, we led the event for a room full of teachers, parents, students, and community members. I will admit I was very nervous at first. What if people did not participate? What if others did not like it? And of course … What if something went wrong?
And it did.
The workshop was not perfect. We went overtime on some segments, had to cut others short, and did not even start some of the activities and discussions we planned. But it also went amazingly our way. We did not have enough time because of how many people actively participated. Everyone was so involved that we ran overtime because the discussions about how to empathize without experiencing and how to deal with microaggressions were powerful and impactful, we could not cut them short to move on.
The educational pieces that we were able to complete left people introspective and motivated to take the next step. The outpour of gratitude, amazement, and encouragement that came from the community after the workshop was astounding. Comments about how impactful the workshop was, and how well we students had done came from everyone.
I will admit — at first, I was a little disappointed that our original design did not fit within the original time frame, but that discontent turned to absolute joy as I realized that our original goal had been achieved and we had successfully helped others learn how to be allies, how to make a difference, and how to Stand Together Against Racism.