One Year Later: A reflection from youth

It has always been so much easier to put words into visuals when it comes to reflecting on the life changing experiences of the Next Generation Leadership Network—making videos, short films, taking photos, capturing what we are in a timeless image for the rest of the world to see.


The experience is more of a documented journey that people fall into. My journey started in my early years of high school.  I was invited to a local social action team that encourage youth to take the matters of social issues in their community into their own hands. Within this small local group students, I found a family that was closer than family. We were from all walks of Louisville, Kentucky; a blend of cultures, races, sexual orientations, gender identities, economic backgrounds and personal experiences. But even the expansive and diverse group of people lacked something. The underlying challenge, as with most local social action teams, remained that we were all from the same location.


Because we were all locals, our geographical experiences, demographics, and ideas were to the same effect in regards to our solutions. We all held leadership potential, but a good leader must be well rounded and able to delegate with other leaders outside of their ‘jurisdiction’. This was one of the founding purposes of The Next Generation Leadership Network (NGLN), and why we pushed on the way we did.


Imagine being traveling upstate to Vermont by car for the first time. A ten hour drive, your headphones are in listening to the music that makes you think. The drive that feels like forever is bliss, the greens and browns of earth and her plants are more vivid than you imagined. You are seeing the world in a new light, realizing that the world is bigger than you know. From this moment forward, the change begins.


There was a mutual confusion when we all arrived from Vermont. I was in a room full of strangers, but I knew these weren’t ordinary youth given that our local mentors brought us here. Everyone here had a sense awareness. What was once all walks of Kentucky, was now all walks of America. Over the next couple of days, we all grew closer. We learned about each other’s struggles, discovered our strengths, and identified our weaknesses when it came to being leaders and agents of social action. One would think that this would just be a summer program or camp where we met people, did activities, bonded, and went home.

Akwelle Quaye and Nick Koenig explore the open field of the Broadloaf School of English campus in Vermont.

It was much more than that. We came here with a goal much bigger than occupying our time in the summer. Every youth present at the conference, that would later be identified to us as the founding of NGLN, was there because they believed in youth leadership. This was not a new movement, but a renewed one. A movement made stronger because we, the future generation and leaders of America, of the Navajo Nation, of the Dominican Republic, of North Andover, of Black Lives Matter, of the LGBT community, of our children and their children and so on was now in one room.



We all fell in love; with our work, our neighboring communities, with each other and with ourselves. We used writing, photography, spoken word, and art to connect with each other and with ourselves. The common denominator in all of our work that weekend was writing. We explored the possibility that the written word was our most powerful tool in the process of change. We explored videography and photography, spoken word and live performances. Everything we did lead us in the direction of becoming better leaders. Our departure from that unique place in the mountains of Vermont was only a farewell. Since then, we have been connected, working endlessly to push the notion that the future generation is now, not later. We are stepping up to make the decisions that those who have been above us refuse to make.


Within just a year of that conference, we grew. More and more youth began joining their local action teams, thus joining the network of sites that we are made of. In less than one year, I have traveled to all five home states, connected with the youth,  and learned from cultures I wouldn’t see in my old Kentucky home. I’ve set foot on Navajo soil and heard the stories of the land from its children. I’ve partied with the locals in Lawrence, Massachusetts and learned from their battles to hold the fate of their education in their own hands. I’ve celebrated with Atlanta and their black community, and documented it all. I have been so many places and have learned so much about myself; things no one could teach me deliberately. My voice is as strong as my lungs, my presence is powerful as my stature, and my name is heavier than my heart. All thanks to the experiences found through NGLN.


No one’s journey with NGLN is the same. Some of us find roads to new lives. Some of us find people with hearts that beat with an unforgettable kindness. Some of us see NGLN as the fruits of our labor; 30 years of networking and writing, and finally, we are together. If you ask one of us, What is NGLN?, you will never get the same answer. Some of us may still not know the ‘textbook’ description of who we are, but there is an unspoken understanding. Upon that understanding, we build our own individual stories.


Robert Spencer
Robert Spencer

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