BHS Hosts Social Justice Symposium


South Burlington High School senior Isaiah Hines speaks to the group during a session at the social justice symposium on April 8. The event was hosted by Burlington High School. | Photo: Emma Chaffee/Register

Emma Chaffee

South Burlington senior Isaiah Hines began the teen conversation at the Symposium for Social Justice Action Groups by assuring participants that any level of experience with social justice was great.

“Just tell your truth and say whatever you feel comfortable saying,” Hines said.

The Symposium for Social Justice Action Groups took place at Burlington High School on Saturday, April 8 from 9 to 3:30.

The Symposium was put on by the Peace and Justice Center in collaboration with Dr. Laura Clemmons.

The purpose of the event was to get members of the community involved with social justice action groups.  Attendees took part in 5 presentations, or “sessions.”  Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, Black Lives Matter, Vermont Interfaith Action, and Gun Sense VT were just a few of the 23 action groups that presented.

Here’s a look at some of the sessions:

Freshman Neelie Markley is fairly new to social justice activism but is excited to get more involved.

“I loved getting to see so many social justice organizations gathered at once. It made it easy to find out information on a variety of social issues and find opportunities to make a change in Burlington,” Markley said.

She greatly enjoyed one part of the day in particular.

“My favorite part of the Symposium was easily the multiple performances by two members of the slam poetry group Muslim Girls Making Change, which provided a much more direct and powerful message about the progress our society needs to make.”

BHS Junior Hawa Adam is a founding member of the group Muslim Girls Making Change (MGMC) and performed at the Symposium.

“The Symposium was a perfect event for MGMC to perform at.” Adam said. “I felt as though I could express myself in a safe space that actually listened to what I had to say and was planning on doing work in the community about the concerns I mentioned in my poetry.”

Hines, a South Burlington Senior and founding leader of the SBHS Student Diversity Union led a teen discussion during the Symposium. Hines was asked to lead this discussion as he has been a volunteer, intern, and employee at the Peace and Justice center.

Hines spoke about his experience with the diversity union during this conversation.

“The Student Diversity Union basically focuses on racial justice and celebrating racial and ethnic diversity. We meet twice a month and  talk about racial concepts like white fragility, white privilege, systems of oppression, current events, like what’s going on in Syria right now,” Hines continued.

All in all, Hines enjoyed the Symposium.

“As a person who’s passionate about social justice, it left me feeling more hopeful about the state of our country knowing that there is so much organizing going on right here in our home state,” Hines said.  “I would have loved if some of the presentations were more interactive but I understand that the point of the event was mostly just to provide information about these groups.”

Though MGMC was Markley’s favorite part of the day, the teen conversation may have been a close second.
“I was inspired by the changes that individuals had accomplished, and was interested to hear how they overcame the difficulties they had faced,” Markley said. “I was also reminded that high schoolers have just as great of a responsibility to combat social issues, and are just as capable as adults at doing so.”