General Assembly 2003: 2101 Youth Leadership: Our Legacy, Our Future - Panel on LRY and YRUU history
(NOTE: Below is a transcript I made, from audio files, of the speakers and Q&A period. Sorting out the voices in the Q&A period was, a few times, difficult. A couple of times I'm uncertain about which speaker is answering and I've noted this.
I apologize for my random capitalization employeed in the transcript. I started getting confused as to what was a formal committee name and what was a generic reference and eventually gave up trying to sort it out.
Thanks to Jon Angel for supplying me with audio so I could get this done. -- J Kearns)
Speaker: Chuck Rosene
Thank you very much, and I'd like to welcome everyone to tonight's workshop--Youth Leadership: Our Legacy, Our Future.
We're not only here to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the forming of the Liberal Religious Youth Incorporated, and subsequent rebirth, 20 years ago, as the Young Religious Unitarian Universalists, but also to celebrate and embrace today's youth leadership. First... (Applause.) Thank you. Let's hear it for today's youth leadership. (Applause.) Cause we've got some in the crowd.
First I want to thank, very quickly, the Pacific Central District board of trustees for allowing us to have this space in this workshop tonight. That was very generous of them. (Applause.) An opportunity for us to get together.
Before we go into introducing the panel, I'd like to just see a quick show of hands. How many people were involved with AUY or the UYF in the 40s and the 50s? Well, we've got one, two.
Male voice: Is that Jones?
Jones was treasurer, right? OK. (Applause.) Show of hands here. LRY in the 50s. All right.
LRY in the 60s? (Applause.) OK! LRY in the 70s. (Applause.) Eh! LRY, now we all know Common Ground happened in 1982, right? So how many folks were...
Female voice: '81.
'81. How many people were in LRY at that transition period. (Applause.) Or involved in the transition? There we go.
Now, do we have YRUUers here from the '80s? (Applause.) All right. From the '90s? (Applause.) How about from the twenty-first century? (Applause.) All right! All right!
That is excellent. That is excellent. We also have some old executive committee members here, too, that are also not just on the panel. We have Mr. Larry Ladd, our financial advisor over here. (Applause.) And I also see a former president, Mr. Rob...Reverend Robert Eller-Isaacs, here in the front row. (Applause.) And am I missing anybody that I haven't had the chance to meet yet? Oh, Molly, Molly, vice-president of LRY '71, '72. (Applause.) Well, well, that says a lot about our relationship right there. (Laughter.)
So, I'd like to introduce our panel. What I'm going to do is I'm going to introduce folks and tell you what they are doing now, and I'm going to let them describe who they were then and give some reflections on what it was like to be a youth leader at that moment in time. And then we're going to open the floor to questions. Part of this is nostalgic, very heart-felt, but very much we want to focus on what happened to the youth leadership and these youth groups through their different historical periods and how we can use that knowledge to better help serve, mentor and reinforce our current youth programs.
So, taking it to my left is the Reverend C. Leon Hopper Jr., who's Minister Emeritus of the East Shore Unitarian Church in Bellevue, Washington, and is also very active with the UU Partner Church Council.
Next is the Honorable Richard Kassow, who's a Superior Court Judge in the state of California.
Judge not lest ye be judged.
Next is the Reverend Wayne Arnason, Co-Minister of the West Shore UU Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and is one of two at-large members of the UU board of trustees and is the secretary of the association. (Applause.)
Male voice: He's got ribbons, this guy.
Yeah, he's got ribbons.
Male voice: (Unintelligible)
Thank you, Rob.
The next person, going on, is Adam Auster, who has been an environmental activist and organizer. He currently criticizes electric companies for a small energy-economics consulting firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Reverend Nada Velimirovic is the Director of Lifespan Faith Development for the Pacific Central District of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
And one of my co-workers, thank you.
Rebecca Scott works at the UUA as the Associate Director of Charitable Gifts and Estate Planning.
And Maura McGill was a member of the YRUU Youth Council last year and is very involved with social justice and trying to link her community organizing work with the work of YRUU. She has just returned to us from Star Island.
Let's have a big round of applause for the whole panel here, friends. And I'd like to turn the proceedings over to Leon at this point.
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Speaker: Leon Hopper
I was active in the American Unitarian Youth from 1946 to 1952, serving two years as president of the AUY. I was the last youth member of the old AUA Board of Trustees. The age span of the AUA at that time was 15 to 25, so there were a number of college and post-college youth participating and part of our culture was also that many of us were returned veterans from WWII, shaping the culture and framework which we were working.
After entering the ministry, I served in youth leadership positions as advisors to conferences and federations, and was an executive director of the LRY from 1957 to 1963.
It is not difficult for me to say that my life has been shaped and formed by my experience in this denomination's youth organization. I would not have entered the ministry had it not been for the AUY and my experience in it. I would not have learned about organizations, community development, social outreach, personal leadership, had it not been for the experiences that I had had in our denomination's youth movement. I am profoundly indebted to those who provided that opportunity to this for me and I have tried to return it a bit, in kind, throughout my career.
The youth program was defined by its sense of self-governance, its self-determination, in its responsibility and participation of youth leadership. One of the things that marked the AUY at that time was what I would call a significant participation of young ministers. They provided models and support for youth leadership, which I think was very profound, and in addition to this group of young ministers there were ministers who were significant in their leadership roles from the denomination, who believed it was important to serve and work with youth and help them in their leadership positions. People like Bill Rice and Dana Greeley. They provided momentum to us in a significant way.
But one of the other features that to me that was very important was our sense of global outreach in the youth movement. When I went to my first convention, the discussion was permeated with the question of whether the AUY could continue to participate in the World Federation of Democratic Youth, or whether we should withdraw from an organization that was supposedly a Communist front, to participate in the World Assembly of Youth. The issue was not what to do. The matter was that we were focused beyond our own continent, to a different continent. There were work camps in Czechoslovakia to help them reclaim themselves following the Second World War. And then later, during a period with the LRY, there were annual trips to Europe and participation in the Albert Schweitzer College. This provided an important and significant dimension to our work.
Lessons for the future. The significant participation of adults and particularly clergy support for youth leadership and youth involvement.
Funding. Sometimes adequate and sometimes horribly inadequate. And it also often seemed to be that just at the time when our youth movements were making a crest to move to the future, the funding would be cut. The consistency of support from the association, or lack of it, has a profound effect on the reality of our youth work.
And third, was the international and global outreach for the program, and I believe that that's even more important in the days that we face today. If we are to help our youth move into a world which is a global reality we need an opportunity to provide them with that contact and that outreach. That's my experience and my reflection, and I thank you for the opportunity.
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Speaker: Richard Kassow
Hi. I'm Richard Kassow. I was, uh, I came to Boston in April of 1967 as a hired executive director of LRY, and I left in about September 1st of 1969. I am the only member of the panel who was not in the youth group but only with the youth group as an advisory capacity. I practised law in Minneapolis for seven years before coming to Boston.
When I was selected through a selection process, a joint committee between the LRY executive committee and the UUA education department, I think that my legal background was a strong factor in this selection. (Laughter.) Those were exceedingly interesting years (laughter) I've had a long discussion about conference at a seminar in 1965, as a practical matter there was incredible struggle going on over how to clamp down on the growing use of drugs amongst the kids, sexual promiscuity, difficult to get conference centers, hard to get people to be advisors, and the impending possibility of legal difficulties seemed to be impressive to the selection committee, but those were years of revolution and turmoil and they were a turning point in my life in many ways, shaped my life for the rest of this time, and my relationships that I forged then are still among the most important ones of my life.
When I came on there wasn't that much contact amongst the leadership. There were a few meetings of the executive committee every year, where the executive committee was brought together. By the time I left, a lot of the executive committee had moved to Boston, lived together in a room, and that went on for many years. Field tripping was pretty limited. Most communications with the local groups and the federations was by mail. Paper sent through the mails. A lot of telephone calls, too. There were some things going on technologically, I never quite understood them, but we seemed to be able to make telephone calls without having to pay the bills. (Laughter.)
But, my family got a Volkswagen bus and we started actually moving around a lot and field tripping became very important. We went all over the country for three years, usually quite a bit of my family, my kids and my wife, three, four, five, six, seven LRYers to go to conferences, to local groups to bring ideas. One of the kinds of ideas that we were working with was the emergence of sensitivity training, which was what it was called, or ideas coming out of the Esalen Institute, first introduced at the General Assembly in Denver at a LREDA meeting, I believe, by Ed tchko. And I was very excited about that and I think that a lot of those techniques and that approach of openness, emotional openness, was started then and continues, a bridge to change.
When I left I wrote a long letter, and I've been reading it a few times. You see the thing was that Larry was the president, we were leading up toward the General Assembly that was to be held here in Boston and I had determined to resign, I was fried, burned out, and I needed to do something else. What I did was go hide in the hills of northern California, but I think a hundred LRYers came here for the first youth caucus.
Other voice (male): More.
More? Larry handled all the logistics so he probably...
Other voice (male): Wayne handled the logistics. I gave the speeches.
Other voice (male): It was 174.
Second other voice (female): You know?
Other voice (male): 174.
Oh, my god. Accuracy here.
Second other voice: How many of those people are here?
How many of those people are here?
Another voice: 1969 attenders at the first youth caucus?
Yet another voice (female): Actually, if you remember you weren't there.
They've taken some of my five minutes, I'm afraid. Just the other one point was that the determination was made earlier in that summer, when I announced my retirement, that I would not be replaced. That there would not be a paid adult executive for the organization and that that money would be more properly used to fund more youth leadership both with youth stipends and with living and travel expenses, and the office, so I was not replaced by a paid adult with children who had to make more money. That was one of the other major turning points in the life of LRY. Larry was the president of LRY immediately preceding that, Rob Eller-Isaacs was the one immediately after. They are the ones that understood that transition and probably do today better than I did as I was on my way out.
But they were wonderful years and I thank you for having that organization for me to go to because I needed it at the time.
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Speaker: Wayne Arnason
Richard and I are an interesting tandem because I was on the LRY Executive Committee that was elected in Boston, in the neighborhood of Boston, actually, Concord, in 1969, and as Richard was leaving, I guess, really, and ten years later I was the next person to assume the role that Richard had played in a very different time and in a very different context.
So, my experience of LRY has to begin in my local group, which was enormously powerful and important to me and I want to honor and name the thousands of young people whose experience of LRY was primarily a local group experience, probably some conferences. My own daughters' experience of our youth movement has been primarily local group based, not much conference attendance, yet she loves General Assembly and she's clearly identified Unitarian Universalist.
So, my Youth Advisor, John Coss (sp) was a chiropractor in the Unitarian Church of Winnipeg. I've lost touch with him but I bless him for the way that he treated me and I bless my home church for the way that they treated me.
I was elected to a Search Committee at the age of 16 after lobbying to have the voting age changed, and the adults in my congregation treated me with respect and appreciation and encouraged my leadership abilities.
So what happened in LRY, and because of LRY, was not entirely Continental. When I started to be involved in Continental, everything was a first, of course, everything was something that you had never tried to do before, and that is the amazing thing about this period of time and what opportunity is there for young people together, doing things together, and in interaction with adults who care about them, is that the process of experiencing for the first time, your own power, your own ability to make something happen. And then to experience marginalization in a way that is extremely painful at this age because it is the time when you understand that you have the power to do it yourself and to do it well and to make a difference.
Today, in the plenary, we talked about mattering and marginalization, the few of you that probably were there. There was a really good exercise that we did up on the stage that involved reflection on a time that you felt you mattered, in a group or an institution, and why, and what that felt like, and then we talked about a time that you felt marginalized and what that felt like and why, what that story was about. These experiences of mattering and marginalization were crucial to what LRY meant and they continue to be crucial, I think to what YRUU means. Our struggle, as a denomination, is to make more and more of those mattering experiences and to try to understand the ways in which we marginalize youth--through our ignorance, through our own political agendas as adults, and ways that youth marginalize themselves, which is also equally true.
When I was invited to come back into youth movement Continental roles, it was not after an absence of ten years. I had stayed connected through friendships, through family, through being an advisor in the Central Pacific District, so the '70s of LRY are as vivid and real to me in many ways as the '60s.
But I came back in a role in which the issue that I felt before us was whether the organization was going to die, and whether there was going to be any meaningful Continental level of leadership.
The proudest I have ever been of any work I've ever done in my ministry was the work that I was involved in in putting together Common Ground. And I'm proudest of it because I believe that it authentically included, on equal terms, all stake holders that were involved in that process, in that decision. It was extraordinarily difficult for LRY federations--that still existed as vivid self-governing, powerful and meaningful organizations for the youth that were within them--to have an understanding of what was at stake in reshaping the Continental organization, because their federations were doing fine.
So, the pain that still exists from the time of transition through Common Ground, around that transition, is very vivid to me. I can get defensive around it when I read, on the chat, people's conversations about it. But by and large I'm so grateful that what happened in those years made YRUU and my local church youth group possible for my daughter and that it continues to make possible what YRUU has become today. Thanks.
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Speaker: Adam Auster
I'm Adam Auster. I served as LRY's Social Actions Director in 1973. I also co-directed the senior high program at Rowe in the early '80s, and at Rowe I was very strongly aware of the influence of Peter Baldwin who had directed the senior high program there after he was LRY's director in the mid '60s and I'm sort of sorry that he couldn't be here today.
Being with you today is really a surprise and a wonder and a gift, and it really evokes the same feelings in me that I had when I first discovered LRY more than 30 years ago.
Youth leadership. A key ingredient for leadership is autonomy, which simply means self-government, and I was surprised to learn that the old watch word of autonomy is in bad odor right now, that it has come to be synonymous somehow with the kind of neglect of youth programs by the denomination in the 1970s. Much better, I was told, was something called youth empowerment. Okay. In my case, autonomy... (Latent laughter interrupts. Unintelligible voice says something to which Adam next responds.) Well, in a way I do. But I just wanted to say a few things before getting back to that.
In my case, youth autonomy meant that we decided to put out a newspaper. And if we didn't write and produce the newspaper, there was no newspaper.
At conferences, if we didn't go into the kitchen, there wouldn't be any dinner. And sometimes the dinner was late, and sometimes the rice wasn't really cooked.
And you know, this was at the LRY booth. This is encased in plastic ostensibly to protect it, but it also serves to conceal the fact that some of the stuff in here really isn't very good.
So in other words we failed to produce the most professional newspaper or the best food, but we built our community and we learned. Most important, to me, we learned how to channel our jangled teenage rebellion into purposeful co-operation. It was the most empowering lesson of my life. And, also, sometimes, the food was great. (Laughter.) And there are some later issues of People Soup that are quite impressive.
Now empowerment is about power. Not just about creating good feelings but really investing others with the ability to act on the world with an appropriate measure of autonomy. The phrase "youth autonomy" predates the troubles of the '70s. The Reverend George Beech uses it in his memoir of the first joint AYU-UYF Conference in 1951, which was two years before the founding of LRY.
It was youth autonomy that empowered LRY to lead Unitarians and Universalists into merger. (Applause.) It never meant youth separatism. Its practice in no way required a massive abdication of adult responsibility to youth.
Of course, LRY was an unusual institution. Other denominations have conventional youth programs which are institutionally more or less like YRUU. There are important differences in the content of the program, and how much authority they share with young people, but in contrast the LRY way seems a singularly Unitarian Universalist solution to a kind of pedagogical problem. How do you teach democracy? Critical thinking? Freedom? Inquiry? How do you really empower? What method best serves those values. Rote memorization and reciting the catechism don't seem to cut it somehow. Yet neither does sink or swim.
The Unitarian Universalist answer at one time was empower the young folks with their own organization, their own leadership, their own budget, influence them by dialogue and engagement, resolve differences through good faith negotiation (even if that is difficult), commit to give as well as take. It was unusual, it's moving, and very UU.
Now, does this legacy have anything new for us? Anything that might enrich not just our memories but our institutions today and our spiritual ourselves. Not in any way to undo what has been built since, which is impressive and worthy of great praise, but rather to realize its promise.
Unitarian Universalism was born in the act of letting youth lead. Will you let them do it again? If you do, they will enrich and transform this movement as they did--as we did--fifty years ago.
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Speaker: Nada Velimirovic
I'm Nada Velimirovic. I was on the Liberal Religious Youth Executive Committee in '78-79. Like Wayne, I would say that my most formative memories of LRY came actually prior to being on the LRY executive committee, having been hyperactive in all of my local group connections and in the federation that I was involved in which was in Virginia at that time.
I also want to say that I'm just really excited to be, in the context of this conversation I'm so mindful of all the people who made a difference in me feeling I could do anything I wanted to once I was 14 years old. (Laughter.) And included in that litany of folks that I wanted to acknowledge is my mother (Nada pauses to recompose herself) the Reverend Norma Veraden, who is still very much with us, thank you. (Laughter.) Norma's fine. She's at home, taking care of our dog. Okay. We've just had a couple of rough years, for people who don't know what the tears are about.
So, anyway. But my mother is a minister of religious education, was a ferocious youth advocate, and more-so than other adults that I can name in those conversations--because, frankly, at this time in the mid '70s, though she was a workaholic, it was quite a struggle for her to get advisors.
We were hitting the fan. The (can't tell what word she uses) was hitting the fan in the mid to the late '70s.
I have so many ecstatic memories of LRY. And I have so many painful memories. (Briefly overcome by emotion again.) I feel like, without entirely personalizing it, I think people who were involved in LRY around that time period, of the late '70s, it wasn't easy for any of us, because it was a time at which in some ways we felt we were being made the scapegoats for the stuff that Richard was starting to mention was happening in the mid '60s. All that legal stuff that they got kind of aflutter about then, they were still more than aflutter in the late '70s. We were being told stories of things, some of which we found out were true, but many of which we also found out were myths, about things that had happened at LRY conferences, underneath the pulpits, etcetera, etcetera.
It was really a battle time, 1978 to 1979, my first UUA board meeting. By this point we were 4 youth on the Executive Committee. And I was on the 2nd LRY Committee that was made up of all females, which several of the UUA Board of Trustee members would comment upon and ask in kind of worried tones, "Is this the trend? Are there going to be any more males in LRY?" So that tells you a little bit about the context of the time that we lived in. But that wasn't the big impression that happened at the first UUA board meeting. At the first UUA board meeting they cut LRY's funding by 70 percent. 70 percent.
Now, the reason why we were able to survive for a little bit longer that time was partly because we started looking for help, and we started scheming and dreaming, and we knew there was the youth caucus that had begun for us. We knew we had a GA to go for, and we crafted a resolution, that with allied help--and I will note, Rob Eller-Isaacs and Wayne Arnason as key adults who helped us navigate some of the politics at GA. That resolution passed to reinstate the funding for LRY on the condition that we begin the conversations for how to get an adult position back in along with youth positions, not knowing what that configuration would take the shape of at that time.
My reflection about this time period for us, as Unitarian Universalists, was we did not do conflict well. (Gentle laughter.) That's an understatement. We did not have the language that we now...still struggle with, so hard, but that we're...damn it, we're getting a lot better at, talking about right relationships, talking about conflict management. We have done alot better job about confronting each other about what really pisses us off and staying in the conversation.
In the context of the time in which I was a youth leader, adults, many adults, I'm not saying...many adults had shut down, wouldn't even hear the name LRY. It was a done deal, we were being cut off at the ankles, everything had to be changed. We had to throw all of us babies out with the bath water.
I stayed in the conversation. I stayed in and got involved in being staff at Common Ground, because I'm a life-long Unitarian Universalist because of my mother's legacy and encouragement. I knew that I had a right to be in the conversation and I knew that my voice and that my peers, who were peeling off left and right, because they were so pissed off about the changes that were going on, that voice had to be represented in some way. And I will say that that took actually quite a cost on my ability to stay in the conversation. I left our movement for quite a while. And I did not go immediately into further levels of leadership because I had to do some deep work on my own.
In terms of the future, I want to just echo what Leon said. I think that crucial things that will make a difference for our youth to lead...because they're here, they're feisty, they know what they want to change in the world and damn it they're going to do it...in order for us to be along on that path we need to stay engaged as adults. And not just a few key ministers. All ministers. All lay leaders. This is my altar call for engagement, for right relationship meaning true relationship with one another, knowing one another, taking the time, the face-to-face time, to know what's in each other's hearts. That's what's going to strengthen our youth leaders.
And then the second thing to underscore is funding. It ain't gonna happen without the money.
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Speaker: Rebecca Scott
My name is Rebecca Scott and I had a...I was involved in my local youth group in British Columbia as well. But you know, I think, there's a funny thing about being a teenager, and I kind of walked into the youth movement in 1983. So, as far as I was kind of concerned, YRUU was all there ever was and all there ever would be, because when you're a teenager you kind of, you just, whatever door you walk in is what you find and you kind of work with it. So, I actually know much more about LRY now than I ever did then. (Laughter.) And so we, in 1983, were actually pretty excited, because we had been handed a new youth organization, and we had been handed kind of a shell, really. There were by-laws for YRUU, and there was a structure, there was a youth council, every district had a representative, and we also encouraged districts to have youth and adult YACs. I was actually on the Pacific Northwest YAC with my friend over there, Eric Swanson, and then it was later on, the youth council and Con-Con staff with actually another friend of mine over there named Eric Swanson. (Laughter.) They've never met before today which was actually a bit of a treat. (Laughter.) I was on the staf of Con-Con. I was a workshop co-ordinator in Portland in '86 and in Montreal in '87 and on the steering committee, and I actually had a great privilege to be on the YRUU 5 Year Review Committee, and now we're getting onto 1987 so we actually had something to review, and then finally I worked in the Youth Office in Boston as one of the youth programs specialists in 1989 and 1990 with Meg Riley, who was the Youth Programs Director at that time and now works at the Washington D.C. office.
So the youth organization, I found, praised, put a high value on youth and adult co-leadership, and this was something that really meant a lot to me. I was at the 1st Continental Youth Leadership Development Conference, which was in Dallas, Texas in 1986, representing my district, and our job was to attend this conference with an adult from our district and then return and hold, I think it was, at least two or three leadership development conferences in our district, and we really struggled, as a youth and adult team, for what it meant to be co-leaders. When was it appropriate for me to take the lead? When was it appropriate for the adult to take the lead? Was adult leadership different than youth leadership? Because, clearly, we, as youth, we really set the agenda and the tone, so it kind of left a, it was a bit of a mystery what adult leadership was in a shared situation, 'cause it wasn't equal per se in terms of setting the agenda, but we definitely wanted meaningful participation, however that manifested itself. A great many of those adult advisors were just so supportive and they're still around today, I run into them in the halls of GA.
I had a...I thought of a couple of funny stories that I personally like. When I was on the staff of my first Con-Con in 1986 I was a workshop co-ordinator and I had never even actually been to Con-Con so I didn't really know what I was getting myself in for. But we had a great, heated discussion as a staff as to if we were going to have a rule that bathing suits would be mandatory at the swimming hole. And I thought, well, who on earth wouldn't want to wear a bathing suit at the swimming hole? And I was really surprised. (Laughter.) But this was a pressing issue for really anybody else, but it was, bathing suits actually were required.
One of the things I really loved doing was...Con-Con continued and we set up a staff structure and a rotation system, what that whole conference would look like. And then a few years later when I was in the youth office, working with the youth steering committee, somebody on the steering committee was reading the old Common Ground reports, and they read the back of the Common Ground II report, which had The Last Will and Testament of LRY, and mentions, among other things, that LRY bequeaths its endowment funds to YRUU. And we looked around the room and we went, "Where's that money? We've never seen that money." (Laughter.) And it was true, the UUA had basically lost it. They'd just lost it. They'd just...they didn't...I don't know, that's what they told us, and I'm a pretty gullible person so I believed it. (Laughter.) But we kind of did our own investigating and asked questions and were pains in the butt and re-earthed this money and it was returned to YRUU and one of my favorite...(applause)...one of my favorite moments of that was actually David Provo, who was the treasurer of the UUA at the time, came to the steering committee meeting to present our different investment options. (Laughter.) And to allow the youth to select how best we would like now to manage our funds...now that we knew where they were.
Male voice: How much was it?
Oh, I don't even actually remember. It wasn't a princely sum but, you know, it's still something that is growing today, and today I know YRUU actually gives out a lot of grants with that money, particularly to anti-racism projects, so it's a real legacy.
(Applause.) Female voice: Who should we write our checks out to today?
Actually, just to, you can write them out to YRUU Endowment Fund today and it would be there.
We struggled the whole time with the age range question. At Common Ground they decided the age range was 12-22, and for the whole time I was in YRUU we argued every single solitary summer about that age range. And for years without any resolution. And finally what ended up happening was Youth Council agreed to change it to its current 14-20, but with a whole bunch of conditions. The conditions were that there had to be post-High programs which are, you know, more or less in place with UUYAN, but when this first started happening there was no young adult programs at all. So once they passed it with the condition that when Youth Council decided that there were young adult programs they would change it. So once they had seen that CUUYAN and there were young adult programs, there were staff at the UUA, they changed that.
You know they also had the condition that they weren't going to change the lower age range until there was a full time Junior High programs director at the UUA, and I kind of left YRUU at the point where eventually they did raise the lower age range to 14 but I don't still see that staff position and I know that YRUU was really pained to leave those Junior Highers out of what it felt was a group. (Applause.)
(NOTE: There's a brief drop-out as if recording was interrupted.) To sum up, I think that what I take from my experience going forward was really that question about what youth-adult co-leadership is, and what it looks like, and how to share it in a way that is meaningful in terms of allowing the youth to have their expression move forward but be supported and engaged with the wider community, and I hope that, in that question, perhaps there's never a perfect answer but in the struggle there's a lot of maybe magic moments. Thanks.
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Speaker: Maura McGill
Hello. My name's Maura McGill. I'm trying to think about what to say about my YRUU experiences. I've served in my district, Ballou-Channing, pretty much every position because I've been involved for quite a long time. And there's a while when the YAC was just restarting 'cause it was in a dormant state for a while, and we didn't have what, we weren't, we didn't really get down the idea of fostering leadership yet so we just kind of traded roles. And then eventually more people got involved and we started to do that more and that's been, that's been good. And I also served as an intern writing some curriculum for youth office one fall. I've been to Youth Council. I've led different workshops at Con-Con, two years (NOTE: Can't tell a word here.) and I've been trying to figure out like what the base emotions that I feel when I think of all of it, and the thing that comes to mind is a lot of excitement and a lot of frustration.
YRUU's been amazing, because when I got there, there has already been like empowering adults who are really in tune with a lot of needs that youth have and also know or have a vision for what their role is and how to help guide and steer without over-bearing or not stepping on toes, and there's been a lot of youth leaders before me who helped pass things down and I felt at times very empowered as a youth but then also very dis-empowered as a female, and as other roles that I take on. And in YRUU it's been a constant struggle to figure out how to develop a vocabulary to be able to stand in my power and say that and feel respected and feel heard by everybody in the group.
Things that I've been really excited about with YRUU is that when, like, when I started going to Continental events we were doing anti-racism trainings, and I didn't really understand it at first and, but, everyone explained it to me that everyone's always in a different place with these things and you might not understand one point right now and maybe later you will. And I just kind of took it as that. Then I started to, you know, keep on moving and, you know, my ideas would evolve and the other people's evolve and it's something that, really, I feel tests the commitment people have to the principles, and that's really intense as youth because everyone has these really fierce ideas and are bouncing them off each other but we're all committing to not leave the table and keep struggling with these things and figuring out what they mean. And then I go back to school and I'm like, what, everyone's like, "What did you do on the weekend?" (Laughter.) Which has been crazy.
I think things that I've...like I just got back from Star Island a couple of hours ago and these were all things that we were right now also working with about finding balances with gender and acknowledging that we all are youth and we're all empowered as youth but we have different roles and treated different just because...it's not level footing...and also understanding that we all have privileges and we all have disadvantages and trying to recognize those so that they help us instead of hurt us.
And I think the most important thing for the future of YRUU is to continue communication. I think youth needs to continue to develop vocabulary with adults and with each other, to say what they need, like what their needs are and how they feel, something's very hard to do, and it's deep work, and it's not something that's very...I don't know, there's a lot of friction when that comes up, and there's a lot of tension, but it's important to keep dialogue going. And I think we also need to continue to listen to our elders and look at the history of past youth leaders, because every committee I've been on where there's been like big problems or things have fallen apart, it's because we'll be like oh yeah we skipped that stuff in the process that all these by-laws and all these things say are really important. (Laughter.) And then we all feel really dumb. It's like we all got the memo, we just didn't feel like reading it because, you know, we know everything.
And my vision for the future of youth leaders is I hope that we can continue with communication and that we do address like what Leon was saying about marginalization and just developing a consciousness that that does exist and that it is present and we can't escape it but if we do, you know, work with it I think everyone will start to have deeper, continue to have deeper understandings about themselves and, you know, what's going on. Thank you.
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Question and Answer Period (Full)
ROSENE: Well, I think that about covers it there. It reminds me of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
ROSENE: Thank you, Nada, for that vote of confidence. Anyways, now that we've heard from the panelists, I think this would be a great time, we have a microphone up here in the center of the aisle, you need to speak closely to it, and you can direct a question, we'd like to ask for some questions, comments from the panel, coming from the audience, and you can direct it to one of the panelists or, if you'd like, direct it to the entire panel and we'll get a little dialogue going back and forth here. So, are there any questions or comments?
JULIE ANN SILBERMAN-BUNN: Hi, I'm Julie Ann Silverman-Bunn (sp) and I sort of fit in the gap between Nada and Rebecca. And I want to thank Wayne for what he said and also Nada for repelling the pain. For those of you who don't know me, I was the first YPS in the YRUU office. Youth Programs Specialist. I guess, recently there has been an LRY email network, and I had to pull myself off that because one of the things that happened for me is the absolute pain that Nada talked about at being the person singled out as the one who betrayed LRY by many people. And I didn't realize until Nada said that about all the conflict and controversy, how raw that pain is still for me. I truly believe that everybody participated in this process and that there was a lot of wonderful stuff that came out of it. I'm very aware that the reason the Junior High and the Post-High, as they were called, were included was because a lot of, at Common Ground, our re-directors (?) didn't have the ability to accomodate the Junior Highers, and so they wanted them included in this newly forming youth organization. And those of us who were 18, like myself in 1981, didn't want to be excluded from the thing that had mattered the most to us, and so we advocated that Post-High be included. And I'm not sure that that was the best thing. But I know that the good parts of LRY were carried into YRUU and that there's still much for us to learn about youth leadership and about empowering youth into leadereship. I've made every effort to stay involved but I know it's tough, and I encourage all of you, if you're not still involved with the youth in your congregations, in your districts, to go back and get involved because they need us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I have two questions but they're factual and brief and they're sort of alphabet soup. One is about AUY and one is about SRL. Well, the question is, where the fuck is SRL? It's like...
(NOTE: I can't understand what someone says in response as it's not miced.)
Well, I don't understand the answer but that's okay. It was partly my experience, and partly I hear it echoed in the comments of the panel, that sex and drugs were upsetting to people that were outside of LRY. I don't know if they were upsetting to people who were inside LRY. But I'm curious about what was the scene in AUY. People were still young in those days, what was the...did people sneak off and get drunk and was that a scandal? What was the story there?
(NOTE: A lot of chatter, and as I can't tell who's saying what I'll leave out those few asides, but Leon is given the floor to answer.)
LEON: I think that...trying to see how to frame this because within the AUY and part of the UYF there varying segments, would probably be the best way I could put it. There were basically the element of a high school organization which was evidenced in the federations and the local groups that Wayne was talking about, and this was really where the activity and the participation went, and there was essentially high school groups meeting in federations and summer conferences, and there might be one or two early college-age persons participating in some leadership postion, but essentially this was a high school segment of the organization. And the rules were the pretty standard rules, that there wasn't much marijuana, at least that I knew about, existed at that time. There was no talk about drugs or illegal drugs. It was pretty clear that you had alcohol. This was not appropriate, it would be ruled out. But I don't remember there being issues around that. In addition to this there was, were college groups, the Channing-Murray, or the Channing clubs, and they were on college campuses and they were essentially functioning as ad hominous groups within churches or on college campuses. There were very few conferences around these, and a few of the college age persons participated in leadership of the Continental AUY, myself being one of those. And so we bridge...there were these elements. And I don't, I don't remember any particular issues around rules or curfews or any of those things, they existed in most of those times. This is a very different era, for gosh sakes.
WAYNE: Lake Winnipesaukee, 1952, Leon, weren't there four guys that were thrown off...that were taken off the island for drinking? Lake Winnipesaukee? 1952? There were four guys that were taken off. There were at least...there were some people that were thrown off the island, out of the conference, for drinking.
LEON: I guess...I forget these things.
NADA: Let me, I want to make a comment folks, I want to make just uhm in some of the references to the good old days, and the sex and drugs that was associated with LRY, I don't know, maybe I'm just like the big, bad voice or whatever, but in my era in LRY, we, those of us who were in the leader circles that I worked with, fought really hard to make sure that drugs weren't a part of LRY events, because, not out of any great ethical concern, but we knew that we were in a life or death situation for the organization and so we took really seriously those rule infractions. And then, the other thing that I want to say about, some people have really great memories about the loose, sexual, free to be you and me times, and also, unfortunately, because of some of the breakdown in relationships and adult mentorships and just frankly because we have some folks with bad boundaries now, then and in the past, right?--there are a lot of folks who would come out of the woodwork who will tell you that they were raped at an LRY event, and that's not to say that wouldn't happen in any other setting either, but I just think we have to be real honest about...there were some...there some really hard stuff that went on along with the celebratory stuff. So, just want to...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this on? Hi. I'd just like the panel to comment on the following. Knowing that there was certainly the use and the occasional abuse of sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, alcohol during the LRY period, particularly during the '60s, is it not also true that illicit sex, drug use and alcohol use was rampant in the adult population of the Unitarian Universalists Association and this was significantly a projection?
RICHARD: In 1967, at the Continental Conference, we found marijuana growing in a stream bed in southern Illinois, or southern Ohio, and people were trying to smoke it, but it was...it was so bad it was not smokeable, but that's the extent to which marijuana was involved at that moment. But as years went on there was a fair amount of dropping, tripping, started to happen over the next couple of years at conferences. And there were some bad experiences. People got...a couple people had to taken away and hospitalized that couldn't handle a particular thing at a particular conference. But, the second clause, how was the adult, what was going on in the churches, what was going on in the General Assembly, amongst the people who weren't in LRY, well, that was the times. We were breaking out and youths were kind of leading the way, I guess. But the culture was breaking out. And we had sensitivity training at General Assembly, we had big rock-and-roll dances, and people were getting it on and promiscuity was rampant. Now, how much was a projection on the kids? I can't answer that. I never thought about it before. People tend to project, I guess. That's all I can say.
LEON: I like Rob's question. It's relavant. Because, my perception...I was not involved in leadership at that particular time, but I felt that it was very difficult, because adults were acting out in ways in which they were telling kids they should not act out. They were providing kinds of models that were destructive and disturbing, and I can just say that. I think it was hellish, difficult, for the youth in very, very significant ways.
REBECCA: I think I...I really like the way the rules around sex and drugs were handled in my era of YRUU and I don't know if it's still the same but the context in which all those rules were in place were in the context of having a goal to have a shared, safe community. And what there was was there was a committee at conferences of youth and adults, and if those rules were broken, along with any other rule that generally disrupted the shared, safe community, you know there's other things that people can do that can create exclusion and in-and-out crowds and disruption and take away from the activity, that all those transgressions were treated equally and taken to the committee and what happened was always a very case by case basis. And I really always think of that as a model for how even adults or any conference could really look at why those rules are in place, and why not drinking or not doing drugs might be a valid choice that you would want to share as a covenant, as a group. So, I was always pretty proud of us for that.
DEBRA: Uhm, Debra, Coplants (sp), LRY from 66 to 70, mostly in west of Boston. I think, around the sexuality issues, which have ended up being much of my ministry, boundary issues and sexuality, what I remember most is being a child at play, innocently at play. Just trying to discover, in a safe place, who I was as a person, who I was as a woman, who I was as a sexual being, and that in LRY it was relatively safe. But as a young person in a UU congregation was a lot of adults sullying their promises, their basic covenants, all the things they held dear and told me that I should hold dear. It wasn't at all the same thing that was going on. What was really regrettable was the interplay between adults and young people. And I can't tell you how many ministers I know who, as young men, mostly, took advantage of LRY members, mostly women, to the long term injury of those women and to the congregations that those ministers were a part of. So, I don't remember LRY being so awful sexually. What I remember is the adults who acted out among the kids. And I hope that never, never, never happens again. (Applause.) I have one really great thing to share with you and one question. One is that I've had the unique experience these last two years of going back to be the interim minister in the place that I was in LRYer. And while if the Department of Ministry and and John Weston and Settlement had ever known that they probably would have prohibited it. What's really interesting is that some of the parents of the people I was in LRY with are still there. And some of those people were difficult. 35 years ago they were difficult. They were still difficult, but I had their numbers from 35 years ago. So, I had this really great advantage. You know, when so-and-so...are they here? Uh-oh. (Laughter.) So, you know, when they were doing the things that really aren't very productive to this particular congregation I could say, "Excuse me, I remember this. And, no, we're not going to do that. We know it doesn't work. We did that 35 years ago, you did it 35 years ago, I saw it didn't work, and we're not going to do it now." It was so, it was really, really, really fun. This is the building, this is the building that I walked into, to my first LRY meeting. The hall was dark except for a candle on the opposite floor, and one of those record players, you know you pull down and you put the, are they 78s? So, we were listening that first night. I remember it so vividly, you guessed it, Mothers of Invention, you know, Suzy, Suzy Creamcheese, this was my first LRY meeting, and this hall had had nothing done to it in 35 years. Which means I remember lying on my belly, on the clean, linoleum floor, it was cool, y'know, it was a hot night, music was playing, there were too many people lying too close to one another, this hadn't had anything done in 35 years. Now, in the last 2 years I've been able to go, pffff, new floor, new walls, new paint, new lights. And, best of all, I resurrected the youth group. And to watch (applause) to be able to sit there and play Sardines with a whole like third generation, 'cause this isn't the next generation, has just been so heartening, and to have them just love it just as much as I did. It just reminded me of all the reasons I went into the ministry. It's great. My question. (Laughter.) No, it's a good question. Holly would have asked it...what I remember is that LRY, and the groups before, have always prefaced what the whole denomination has done. Y'know, I don't need to articulate, we all know what I'm talking about. The youth had a condo, then we had...ministers did, and we hoped the whole denomination would have a condo, right? I want you all to comment on that. Is that still going to be the way it is? Are the youth going to tell us the directions? Because that's what they've been doing for 50 years.
WAYNE(?): You know one observation I have is that in, I think that YRUU's response to the anti-racism work has been exceptional and powerful and deep, and I would not say that they jumped into it before adult leadership and the denomination did but I would say that they have taken it in, they have been more bold and more risky than we are willing to be in, as adults, and they're moving with it faster and harder and scarier. It's good work.
MAURA: One thing about the question about the sex, drugs and alcohol and things, from all the conferences I've been to and seen how conferees are, I'm always very proud at the drug-free communitiees we've been able to create. But one thing I do know, I feel that it is still something that is prominent and is a problem within leadership in a very hush-hush sort of way, I mean, I think it was last year the housing was changed drastically for youth housing and we changed it to hostels because a couple of years before staff was very overwhelmed because it was kind of like UU Kids Gone Wild in hotel rooms. It was out of control. And then people weren't being responsible and it was being put on the youth leaders that it was their fault. And so, you know, we've tried to change that so that it's not an environment where people can do that, but I think it definitely, it mirrors something that's present, you know, within the community as a whole. And also I've noticed it more with the responsibility of leadership and the power that comes with it, that's when I notice, that drugs will take play, it's something that I struggle with like at planning meetings for different conferences I'm involved in, and being like, well, our conferences are places where we're sober and it's important to, you know, keep that sobriety so that we can plan good programming and push things forward, and I hope that, like, I think it's really good that we do have drug-free communitees but also that people do keep in mind that it is something that is still underneath the surface and still does need to be addressed and affirmed that we support that people don't, you know, do things. Yeah, that's all.
ADAM: I'd like to say that I think probably the hardest thing that we were ever asked to do as part of youth autonomy in our era was enforce the rules. And it's not something that I was ever very good at. But I think it was really hard for people who had to basically bust their friends, bust their lovers, bust whoever, and it's something where we could have used help from adults, and didn't have it. But I also want to say that some people were good at it and it was not a total failure. I've been party to some conversations from sort of repentant rule breakers, and I walk away feeling, well, that there really wasn't that much bad behavior in LRY as I'm hearing about, but I also walk away feeling that what there was was actually more destructive than most of the people I talk to seem to understand. And I also walk away feeling that the problems were worst where grown-ups cared the least.
ERIC KAMINOWSKY: My name's Eric Kaminowsky. I was youth program staff for the end of Wayne Arnason's tenure and the beginning of Ellen Brandenburg's tenure so you know where to place me in LRY. This year I was asked to participate in the creation of the next 5 Year Plan for YRUU, which had a group of about 50 people getting together to have a conversation, and that 50 person group was a strict 3 to 1 youth to adult ratio. I was the lone adult facilitator with 3 youth facilitator's at my determined role, which was given to me, was to support them in facilitating the process. So, Adam, I want you to know, as someone who's eaten lousy conference food, read and presided over a couple lousy issues of People Soup, with some brilliant spots in them, that we did not come up with a 5 Year Plan that reads brilliantly, in fact it's written in a dozen different voices and 15 different styles, and at some level it's a mess, but it is a brilliant document, and I can promise you that the youth leaders are fierce and passionate, and for them, looking at the world with an anti-racism lens, is the only thing that was going to happen in those days. And we sat together, and we had the conversation, and we fought and we had tears, and we made this patchwork document which reads poorly but reflects the brilliance of what happens when young people determine their own future. I have no fears for the future of our youth movement or our denomination when these young people take our places.
DENISE: Chuck, I also just want to actually introduce Brian Beck over there. He's actually the current Youth Programs Specialist in the Youth Office at the UUA and is one of those leaders. I just thought I'd wave at Brian.
CHUCK: We're also, we're ten minutes past our time here, right? Two more? You guys stand for two more here? Okay.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you very much. I'm Nada's partner and I have a couple of questions, I'll try and be brief. I've sat here, I've listened to these five generations of stories and I think it's fascinating. My question is this. Every generation, every decade for the last, since the fifties, has had a challenge, from the post-war era, and our president, too, to deal with, okay? From Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, on and on, so my question is, from between the pre-Civil Rights Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Movement, the abortion issue, the gay issue, Reaganomics, how, where has leadership been, has it come from the youth, or has it come from the adults, or has it been both? How have you guys worked together to get through all these issues, and, actually, I think, be on the forefront of many of these issues. I don't know how you guys have gotten here, and this is a very long question, I know, but perhaps Leon can start me off and then a quick, brief statement so that I can understand how you guys have gotten done so much.
(NOTE: Someone says they're not clear what she's asking.)
Okay, the question is for the past five decades, okay, there have been a total paradigm shift in this country, okay, from between the pre-Civil Rights Movement, the post war generation of WWII, okay, the things that, the challenges that were faced by soldiers coming home, okay, to the sixties, where you had the pre-Civil Rights, and Civil Rights Movement, okay...
(A woman says, "You're asking where were the youth leaders in context of society?")
Given what's happened in the last five decades, and there's been a lot, and I gave some examples, okay, who was on the forefront of your denomination, has it been youth, or the adults, or can you kind of give me some examples of where it has been a combination of both? Is that pretty clear? It's tough.
WAYNE: Rather than seven answers, just one from somebody who has done a lot of reflecting on this history. I think that, I think that Leon's example of the edge that his generation of youth leadership was pushing around the post-war exploration of a new vision of internationalism, that some adults that they were working with were profoundly affected by, and many youth were caught up in, but that frightened many other adults in Unitarian Universalism, they identified it with communism. So, that kind, it's a good paradigm, really, always there has been some kind of cultural edge where there were youth leaders that were very much on the edge of that wave and adults who were right with them, and at the same time there have been probably the majority of Unitarian Universalists not very clear or comfortable with where that wave was going. So, in some ways, I think the whole issue around drugs in our generation was part of a cultural wave that involved an exploration of consciousness in a different way, that manifested itself, as the drug edge of it wore off, into an exploration of Eastern spirituality and other ways of understanding what the potential of human consciousness was. And some of the things that we did in conferences in the 60s, that weren't at all drug-related, some of the things Richard talked about, key groups, human potential movement stuff, was part of that edge. So, I think that's the tension. Where's the edge? Who's pulling back?
NADA: And I'd just say that youth leaders were definitely a part of particularly gay rights issues and anti-war protests, and those in particular were two ones that I was really conscious of as a youth leader, that youth made a tremendous stand upon and brought adults with them.
REBECCA (?): I think youth have the ability to identify the topics that have the most aversion and friction and know those are the ones that need the most attention.
MAURA: I think that's always been..and we just need the adults to continue to steer and guide and support.
CHUCK: Okay, let's hear from Brian (Ryan?) here.
BRIAN (RYAN?): Hi, so the age range for YRUU right now is 14 to 20. Where I come from, the Southwest District, it's 14 to 18. When the by-laws got lost, they were 14 to 20, they got lost, and then the, it just turned to 14 to 18 by practice, and then when we found our old by-laws it was like too late, no, we, no, it's 14 to 18, and we've been struggling for a long time to try to get it back to 14 to 20 to match the Continental age range, and this is a question for the people who were in youth movements that had that ten year life span, would the arguments of the adults that we don't want 18-year-old guys with our 14-year-old daughters and the youth trying to explain that that's where our youth leadership and mentorship and continuity of fostering leadership, of youth leadership, what would you say, what is your response to that argument of legalities over the subtle but more persuasive.
WAYNE: 18 to 20 year olds are very different people in their development, and so what you gain by having the small number of them who still want to be active in leadership roles in youth movement is you gain a great deal of wisdom and mentoring, but having 18 to 20 year olds involved in youth movement also opens up the door to people who are hanging on out of a developmental place that, where they haven't been able to move on to the next stage. So, you get both kinds of people, and the problem is how to make the place safe so that you can include people in leadership roles who are of that age and at the same time not have it be a haven for folks who can't move on, so that, does that help, Jan? You really are dying to say something, aren't you.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN OFF MIC: Who was the first question that was addressed at Common Ground in 1981? Who? Who are...and so all the resistance that was to creating a new organization, and the grief over the loss of LRY, got projected onto that first question, and the boundaries, no one was willing to make hard, fast boundaries as we responded to that question, so that instead of saying what is in the best interests of the youth movement, to make this a safe and secure community for our youth, we said how can we take care of all these grieving people, and we had 19 and 20-year-olds standing up on the stage saying, "I'm losing everything!" And you better believe that it became this very expansive movement, and what it did, I think, is it left our churches off the hook to create programming for our Junior High youth and our young adults that really met their needs, and it didn't serve the long term interests of our movement.
CHUCK: All right. Well, friends, let's give another big hand for our panel, for that's quite a distinguished event here.
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