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Youth Ending Slavery Representatives Inspired by UN Experience

Leaders of the Youth Ending Slavery group at St. Mary's Academy, Portland share this reflection about their recent participation in a major women's event at the headquarters of the United Nations. They were able to make the trip with financial assistance from the Sisters of the Holy Names.

This year we had the wonderful opportunity and privilege of visiting the United Nations headquarters in New York City and participating in the Youth Forum at the 61st Session on Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 61). The event is perfectly described by CSW as a “critical opportunity for young people and adolescents in all their diversities to convene in advance of the official opening of CSW to amplify their common concerns and advocacy efforts,” and that it was! As active members of the social justice community, we get excited about even the smallest events or gatherings in which we are able to share our opinions and fight for rights. Attending an event as big as the CSW ’61 was an amazing opportunity that we are incredibly thankful for.

What struck us most about the Youth CSW ’61 was the amount of diversity we experienced in fellow attendees. Knowing the event was taking place at the United Nations headquarters, we expected to see representatives from around the world, but we were nonetheless so impressed by the variety of countries in attendance. More than 600 participants attended the Youth CSW, and they came from more than 80 different countries around the world. On the first day, one could sit next to a man from India, befriend a woman from Uganda and hear speeches from people from Australia, Pakistan, Japan and more. Coming from a predominately white city like Portland, we found the experience of being immersed in such beautiful heterogeneity to be incredibly eye-opening.

It is at diverse and inclusive events like these that we hold up the efforts and concerns of youth where missions like ours are fulfilled. We were not only given a chance to share YES's work, but we were also invited to make our voices heard within the context of an international audience of individuals who share our broadest purpose.

Each one of us in attendance from the YES board felt inspired to expand our advocacy efforts in unexpected ways; as seniors anticipating moving to new campuses in the fall, we will bring with us this spirit of inclusion, curiosity, engagement and energy into our next roles, mobilized by the spirit of activism. And we shared our experiences with the younger members of the YES board who will carry on the important work moving forward.

We are so grateful for the support of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, who helped us attend this event and who generously empowered us to bring our local nonprofit to new heights. It was an experience we will never forget, which has inspired each of us to advance our advocacy efforts in ways we never thought possible.

Katy Foley, President of YES
Natalie Bojarsky, Treasurer
Molly Kelleher, Policy and Expansion Director

In the photo, L-R: Natalie Bojarsky, Molly Kelleher and Katy Foley at the Youth Forum in New York City.