The Music Changing Lives (MCL) organization, in partnership with the Changing Lives Association and The California Endowment, hosted its second annual State of the Youth Conference from June 22-24 at San Bernardino Valley College. The conference, themed “Creative Expression & Sustainability,” provided a platform for 45 local students, aged 13-34, from San Bernardino, Rialto, and Colton, to engage in civic advocacy and learn how to generate action against pressing social issues.
Josiah Bruny, Founder and CEO of Music Changing Lives said, “The second annual State of the Youth Conference aims to empower the youth in our community by teaching them how to become civically engaged in advocacy and generate action against the most pressing issues in and across our communities today. We are striving to provide a platform to equitably uplift the voices of the next generation of leaders addressing racial, economic, and social issues.”
The conference offered three tracks with nine workshops, daily meals, live entertainment, art activities, team-building exercises, and valuable college, financial aid, apprenticeships, and employment information. Keynote speakers included Michael Wiafe, the newly appointed Education Policy Associate in the Office of California Governor Gavin Newsom, and Mike Africa Jr., an activist, writer, speaker, stage performer, and hip hop artist whose life story is featured in the HBO Max documentary “40 Years a Prisoner.”
One of the conference’s highlights was the “Art of Sustainability” presentation by Joyce Jong, a Senior Project Manager for the City of Riverside and a third-generation poultry farmer. Jong emphasized the importance of sustainability in managing resources, serving communities, and maintaining resources for future generations. She also highlighted the significant role of agriculture in the U.S. economy and job market, contributing $5 billion to the local economy in the Inland Empire alone.
Jong warned of the potential impact of climate change on the region, with predictions of an increase in extreme heat days that could affect crop production and lead to desertification. She encouraged the younger generation to consider careers in agriculture, mainly as greenhouse technology specialists, citing the availability of scholarships through the Next Gen Farmer Training Program at San Andreas High School in San Bernardino.
The conference concluded with an outdoor reception, participant headshots, certificates, and a concert by MCL. Despite a smaller turnout this year, participants engaged more actively, benefiting from the intimate setting.
The conference’s three-day schedule was packed with various workshops designed to equip the participants with the necessary skills and knowledge to become active community contributors. The first day focused on civic engagement, college and career pathways, and health and wellness. On the second day, they delved into entrepreneurship, business finance, and generational wealth. The final day was dedicated to creative expression, creating NFTs, and leadership.
The workshops were divided into three groups based on the participants’ ages, ensuring the content was relevant and age-appropriate. This year’s smaller group size allowed for more personalized interactions and in-depth discussions, leading to a more enriching experience for the participants.
The conference’s focus on creative expression and sustainability was a strategic initiative addressing racial, economic, and social issues. The goal was to create comically engaged leaders through artivism, a combination of art and activism. This unique approach allowed the participants to express their thoughts and ideas creatively while advocating for community change.
The conference’s success was a testament to the power of community engagement and the potential of the youth to bring about positive change. As Bruny stated, “I look forward to our annual conferences and changing the narrative towards progress.”
The State of the Youth Conference is a shining example of how organizations like Music Changing Lives, the Changing Lives Association, and The California Endowment are making a difference in the lives of young people. By providing them with the tools and platform to voice their concerns and ideas, these organizations are helping to shape the next generation of leaders.