Marin Youth: Our Realities

Youth, faith leaders, community members and local Marin non-profit organizations came together on Saturday, September 24th for Session One of the Building Bridges of Understanding Conference Series, Marin Youth: Our Realities.

“The youth are our future, we must stop, listen and learn from them.”  – Conference Attendee

The program provided the space and opportunity for dynamic intergenerational dialogue between local organizations, youth and faith leaders and concluded with an action plan on how to best advocate and support Marin County youth.

Dr. Nahid Angha, Co-Director of the International Association of Sufism and The Building Bridges of Understanding Conference Series welcomed the audience, presenters and faith leaders, and thanked the Marin Community Foundation for their support of the program and also announced the upcoming three conferences in the series entitled, Stewardship, Compassion and Service.

Arthur Scott, Professor of Humanities at Dominican University of California welcomed the audience and acknowledged Dr. Angha and the International Association of Sufism for 11 years of planning and hosting Building Bridges community conferences in Marin County.

The first panel presentation discussed Hindu and Islamic perspectives of youth and was moderated by Sensei Joanne Mied from the Buddhist Temple of Marin.

Swami Vedananda, a monk of the Ramakrishna Order from the Vedananda Society of Northern California explained the four stages of life and the four life goals in the Hindu tradition. He also explained the importance for youth to experience and understand spirituality. Ultimately we support youth and ourselves toward the stage of liberation: freedom from ignorance.

Islamic perspectives of contemporary youth were presented by Sheikh Jamal Granick, a member of the International Sufism, co-director of the Sufism and Psychology Forum and associate core faculty at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. He offered that, in Islam, the very young may have a inherent divine connection and are born with Fitrah. He spoke of a Hadith of the Prophet, svt: “Seek knowledge from the Cradle to the Grave.”

Anything we worship by our personal choice is a result of our own creation and not divinely instructed. How and when inner knowledge is realized by human beings is not dependent upon age. Our youth are facing challenging times and it is our hope and intention to stand up for our youth, to place full trust in their individual talents and encourage them to flourish and achieve. When we trust in their abilities and values we will not underestimate their needs and profound courage. When we listen with care and compassion, to the voices of our youth we will begin to understand how they are completely deserving of our trust.

Facilitator Bob Reynolds with Andrea Perleson, Dana Callihan, Felecia Gaston, and Dr. Virginia Edwards

Following, leaders and representatives from local organizations who work directly with youth in Marin County offered presentations.

Dana Callihan, the Interim Chief Executive Officer of the Youth Leadership Institute discussed the diversity among the experiences of youth in Marin County.  He offered that despite the fact that Marin youth live in “an affluent [community] and, on average, enjoy a better quality of life and opportunities than their peers in California, and nationwide,” there are many youth in Marin who experience significant obstacles to opportunities and basic human resources. Dana shared several statistics from a report conducted by the youth of the Youth Leadership Institute.

– 6.3% of Marin youth live in poverty (as do 19% statewide).
– 7.7% of youth drop out of school (as do 19% statewide).
– 43% of youth do not identify as being prepared for college (66% statewide).
– Only 22% of Latino youth identify as being prepared for college (57% statewide).
– Less than 14% of African American students and less than 12% of Latino students report opportunities for meaningful participation in school compared to more than 20% of other students on average.
– While less than 23% of white and Asian students felt depressed in the last year, more than 29% of African American students felt depressed, and 35% of Latino students felt depressed in the last year.
– More of Marin African American, Latino, and Pacific Islander students consider themselves to be members of a gang than their peers statewide, in all three instances more than 15% of the population.
– Students report than 85% of their peers use homophobic language, and 68% use racist language.
– 17% of gay and lesbian students and 9% of African American students report being beaten up compared to 4% of their peers.
– 35% of all students avoid school bathrooms because they feel unsafe, and 50% of gay and lesbian students avoid them.

The second guest panel speaker was Andrea Perleson, a former homeless youth in Marin County and a spokesperson for Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity (AHO) a local non-profit organization. Andrea shared her personal story of experiencing homelessness and discussed the importance of having organizations such as AHO, an organization that, “helps you, help yourself.”

AHO works with homeless youth ages 16-25 to find housing and also offers direct services such as scholarships for college, counseling, legal aid, doctors and dentists. In Marin, 2,500 teens and young adults ages 16-25 are homeless.

Dr. Virginia Edwards, board member, and Felecia Gaston, Director, of The Phoenix Project of Marin concluded our panel presentation.

The Phoenix Project of Marin serves at-risk young males ages 13-30 and provides services such as anger management, counseling and therapy, court advocacy, life skills classes, vocational and educational support and pre-employment training.

Dr. Edwards and Felecia Gaston discussed the importance of working with and talking directly to at-risk males in Marin County to determine their needs and experiences. They shared that, in particular, many young males in Marin are in need of permanent housing support.

Moderator David Escobar leading a conversation between panelists and the audience.

We concluded the panel with a Question and Answer session facilitated by David Escobar before enjoying a delicious lunch and rich conversations with the participants of the conference.

In the afternoon, we participated in Round Table Discussions, moderated by Bob Reynolds, from the Community Congregational Church of Belvedere.

Ambassadors of AHO facilitating a conversation with leaders and members of the interfaith community

The participants divided into four workshop topics, facilitated by Dr. Edwards, Farah Mohsen, Andrea Perleson and Dana Callihan. The workshop groups focused on:

1.  How to become involved with youth in Marin County?

2.  Middle Eastern Youth in Marin.

3. Youth, Education, and Homelessness

4. Given the realities of Marin’s youth, how can faith communities help?

Common themes and action points included: cross community collaboration among youth, adults and faith communities, project based activities that incorporate youth such as workshops, community events, radio shows or documentaries, creating a direct and trustful dialogue between adults and youth, connecting faith groups both traditional and non-traditional, creating dialogue and collaboration among youth groups and promoting opportunities for service.  As adults we must build a strong foundation of trust among youth, listen to youth and share our story, history or perspective as an adult.

AHO Ambassador, and Music and Media Artist, Marquayas R. Malone

The conference concluded with live music from the Taneen Sufi Music Ensemble which created a calm and peaceful energy in the room. Marquayus Malone, from AHO, shared a lyrical piece that he wrote about the experience and potential of humanity in modern times.

Members of Taneen

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