April 1, 2011
>Safe School Advocacy Summit Attendee Shares His Experience With Us
>This past weekend (March 27-29) students and adults from around the country met in D.C. for GLSEN’s annual Safe Schools Advocacy Summit (SSAS). During SASS, participants attended workshops about safe schools legislation, advocacy and organizing skills, and learned strategies for continuing safe schools advocacy work at the school, local, state and federal levels. On the final day participants lobbied their representatives and senators on Capitol Hill about the importance of safe schools issues. D.J. Smith is a senior from Topsham, Maine and a SSAS attendee who wanted to share his experience with you.
I never would had thought that I would become so close to people in only four days. As cliche as it may sound, I felt that although I just met these people, that I had known them for my whole life. SASS was full of advocates who were focused on one goal, creating safe school for ALL students. During these four days, we focused on our own stories and how to tell them to our representatives and senators. At first, we were all just random people from random places coming to one place and getting to know each other. We instantly bonded as friends, and somehow, we all were closely knitted together. Friendships were formed with just a simple “hello I am from ____, how about you?” However, these friendships reached beyond that point of just basic information, they increased to a larger level while we were formulating how we were going to tell our own stories about why we support the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.
Our stories were, in a way, internalized. A lot of us haven’t taken the time tell our stories, or even attempt to try to piece all the events in our lives together until SSAS. We learned each others experiences and we lived through them as we attempted to organize and retell from the beginning of our experiences with bullying and harassment in schools to what problems we are currently facing and what we are doing to solve them.
Tuesday rolled around and this was the day where we had the floor and had to give it our all. Some of us were nervous, some of us had no clue what we were going to say, but we all had something in common, we were ready to take on the legislation, one delegate at a time. After about 95 visits in total, the day seemed a success. Some of the senators and representatives were ready to hop on board with either SSIA or SNDA, while others were still hesitant or against the bill itself, there was still a respectful disagreement in the atmosphere, and even if our own stories couldn’t convince, we left with something just as important. We left with experience, we left with leadership, we left with dignity. Each and every one of us were full of courage. How many students can actually say they went to Washington D.C. to speak with their Representatives and Senators? Not many.
After all of our lobbying appointments, many of us felt like we had just hit a brick wall of emotions. It was the last time all of us were going to be in the same building together. We exchanged phone numbers, email addresses, Facebooks, Twitters and Tumblr URLS, as we said our farewells. While hugs and handshakes were being passed around, a lot of us were holding back tears, it felt like we were saying goodbye to a loved one. I know that’s what everybody at SSAS was to me, they were a part of my family. I have gained a lot of inspiration from the courageousness that all the youth and adult leaders who were willing to share their stories and experiences. For some of us, these stories were hard for us to share, and for others, they were full of altruistic emotions full of empathy for those who were facing harassment and bulling in their schools.
What I do know is that programs like SSAS are extremely important and have brought together various backgrounds, various cultures, various experiences, and these programs not only foster leadership, courage, and intellection, but it established life long friendships, experiences that will last threw-out our lifetimes, and inspiration to continue doing such amazing work. I love every one of the SSAS participants from 2011, each and every one of them is now officially a part of my extended family!