Neutral Zone's Youth Driven Spaces conference moves to Ypsi

A conference focused on empowering youth to develop skills to drive their own programming is moving to Eastern Michigan University (EMU) for its third year. The Youth Driven Spaces Conference was held last year in Detroit, but this year will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 11 at EMU's Student Center, 900 Oakwood St. in Ypsilanti.


The conference is co-hosted by Ann Arbor's Neutral Zone, a youth-driven teen center, and co-sponsored by Engage@EMU, with funding from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. Last year the conference attracted more than 125 youth from seven counties, representing schools and youth-centered nonprofits from around southeast Michigan.


The event includes networking, professional development, and breakout sessions led by youth. In the breakout sessions, young people make presentations on initiatives and projects they are heading up through their schools or organizations.


Ciatta Tucker, a 17-year-old who lives in Ypsi and is a senior in the Ann Arbor Public Schools, attended the conference last year and will serve as a teen trainer at this year's conference. That means she'll help teams presenting breakout sessions, updating them on when and where they'll present and even providing last-minute help on their presentations if needed.


She says she was impressed with several of the presentations she saw at the 2018 conference, including a group that was seeking funding to do a series of murals depicting Mexican-American culture, and another group seeking to launch a youth activism camp in the Detroit area.


"I really like how adults and teens work together," Tucker says. "There's no hierarchy of who is doing what, just a lot of togetherness. And the teams are very passionate about the projects they want to get funding for."


Neutral Zone implements the youth-driven spaces approach in most of its programming, believing that young people can handle the responsibilities of organizing and governing their own spaces and programs. Allowing them to make meaningful contributions helps them develop "soft skills" such as problem-solving and teamwork.


Tucker says the conference is important to her because it "gives youth a voice to talk about things they're passionate about."


"They can take charge and take on challenges in teams," she says. "They're building up their courage and self-esteem and learning how to guide themselves and others through the world."


The cost for the conference is $5 for youth and $15 for adults, and includes breakfast and lunch. For more information on the conference, email John Weiss at weiss@neutral-zone.org.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of the Neutral Zone.

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