The following post was written by Rosie Cohen, age 17. A student at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., Cohen was a participant in the 2012 UUCSJ summer youth program.

A few days into my week at UUCSJ’s National Youth Justice Summit (NYJS), we were all gathered for a leadership training session that, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t completely excited about. We had all spent the last few days in intense workshops and stimulating meditations — generally, activities that I felt passionate about. I didn’t think something called leadership training would bring out any of my passions for social justice.

I was wrong. In fact, this was probably one of the most exciting parts of the week for me, because suddenly everything turned real. By the time we’d finished with the leadership workshop, I had this amazing rush as I realized that I was gearing up to go home and take with me tools, support, and confidence to start my own social justice undertaking. We practiced networking skills and setting goals, and we started to think about what kinds of things we were all going to focus on when we got home.

The hopes and dreams I have for my social justice work are widely spread over many issues that are all close to my heart, and at times, though exciting, these hopes and dreams can be overwhelming and seem even unreasonable. Because of NYJS, I was able to hone in on a couple of issues that I care deeply about and focus on making real change. I remember sitting on a hill at Boston Common in the sun, starting to think about the prospect of doing something real for my community. If the idea of taking on a project scared me, I would think back to the multitudes of support that I received from my peers at NYJS as well as our amazing advisors and presenters during the week.

As of now, I’m starting to put together my project. I am creating a young girls’ empowerment group at an elementary school in my neighborhood. The group will meet regularly for the rest of the 2013 school year and focus on media literacy, women’s history, and feminism. I am still in planning stages, but I already have support from parents, and a good number of kids have started to sign up. I sought out a local organization that I wanted to be involved in my project, and now I have more support than ever. Without all the knowledge I gained during NYJS, along with the teeming encouragement from everyone there, I probably wouldn’t have the motivation to take on anything. My week in Boston was totally life changing. If you have the opportunity to go to one of the 2013 programs, I highly recommend it!

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