“Everything that I learned this week is something that I can take into the real world and really use,” said Anytown delegate Patrick Evans at the closing graduation ceremony. “And, I really appreciated how everyone was willing to work with us – we really all connected and it was an amazing experience.”
Anytown Alabama was started by the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) in 1989, and since 2011, the YWCA and NCCJ have partnered to present the annual summit.
“We work all year with a team of amazing volunteers to make sure the curriculum is current and presented effectively,” said Joan Witherspoon-Norris, director of Social Justice for the YWCA of Central Alabama. “When we start the week the students don’t know each other. It’s inspiring to see how quickly they come together and learn from one another’s experiences. We challenge them to take what they learn here and put it back into practice in their communities.”
How does the week stick with the students after the summit has ended?
Students are broken out into diverse groups where they discuss difficult topics such as racism, classism, gender bias and sexual orientation with facilitators that help guide the discussion showing how to have crucial conversations that instill understanding – not judgement.
Spending seven days with such a diverse group has a profound impact. Students leave Anytown changed for the better and with their eyes open to how people’s identities affect their every day experiences. With their awareness raised, students are equipped to be leaders who promote acceptance of all people and who work for changes to make their schools and communities more just.
Anytown is designed to help students realize that they can be different from one another, but still be united. Each year is different and the staff and volunteers look forward to seeing what the students take back to their schools and their communities.
“At first I was worried about being with such a big group of strangers for such a long period of time, but I can truly say I feel very close to all of my fellow delegates after this week,” said delegate Hannah Cowart. “Together, we’ve learned leadership and have really grown as a family and if there is anything I would like people to know about this week it is that TOGETHER we realize we can change the world.”
And, that is what Anytown Alabama is about.