Abedllatif Benterkia, Youth Leader, Shares His Experience Presenting at Free Minds Free People conference

My name is Abdellatif Benterkia, and I am a youth philanthropist in BLING, a San Francisco YLI program. On July 9-11 I attended Free Minds Free People Conference in Oakland, California. It was my first time ever attending a social justice conference. I met a lot of people whom came from different backgrounds. It was very emotional to me seeing that amount of people, fighting for something that I am passionate about and that’s unique.

I was featured on a panel called “Funding Our Liberation: Lessons from Youth Philanthropy.” The panel was made up of three youth from San Francisco youth philanthropy programs. One panelist described her social enterprise project that used indigenous clothing from Guatemala to make trendy jackets in the U.S. We also hosted a gallery walk where we featured some of the projects we funded, including Indigenous Roots: a youth organized project for the community that taught community people how to cook traditional food. Another project was For Girls By Girls: this youth project fundraised money to create scholarships for low-income girls to attend college.

It was a highlight for me to speak to over 20 audience members who were from all areas of the country, and they were looking to us as an example for how philanthropy could look differently in their own communities. On our panel, we emphasized youth power. Youth know what youth need. We can create and fund projects that are solutions to the needs of our communities. We have the ability to harness money and use it in a good way to improve our communities.
One lesson for me was a realization that different communities need a program like BLING, and how we are disconnected from them. I want to build out networks to share the success we have in the Bay Area throughout the country.

I also attended two workshops that I picked from a long list of workshops. I wanted to go to every single one that was on the list, but unfortunately I couldn’t. Some were at the same time, in the other hand I had to go to work. One of the many things that I learned and was interesting to me was how the Zapatista independent community got created. We discussed about how they started their own community and what are their beliefs, and how developed they are so far since 1994. I didn’t know about the Zapatistas before attending this conference, but now I want to visit the community and understand the type of life they live.

The other workshop that I attended was called Mena, where we discussed stereotypes that target Muslims and Arabs in North Africa and Middle East. I was amazed of how many teachers attended this workshop saying. “We want to teach our students something about that culture,” a teacher from Southern California confessed. After a discussion, they introduced a 300 page curriculum that was developed for teachers to guide them and help them conduct lessons for k-12 students about the cultures of Arabs and Muslims. This was powerful for me, because I didn’t learn about anything that talked about my culture while I was in High School. But it relieved me that other students would have the chance to learn about Arab and Muslim culture in the future.

This conference was a great experience that made me peek at social justice from a different window, an adult window, from my perspective as a youth.

~ Abdellatif Benterkia

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