Posts

Smithsonian Affiliations at 25: Chapter 2- National Youth Summits

Affiliations Anniversary Series: 25 Years in Your Neighborhood
Chapter 2: National Youth Summits

Catch up on Chapter 1: The Ten Thousand Springs Pavilion here.

The late John Lewis seated next to filmmaker Stanley Nelson on stage at the National Youth Summit

The Late Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) and filmmaker Stanley Nelson at the 2011 National Youth Summit on Freedom Rides. Photo courtesy National Museum of American History.

Engaging younger audiences has always been a goal of the Affiliate network. As an ongoing reflection of the past 25 years of working with our Affiliates, this month we focus on the role of the National Youth Summit and the regional youth conversations produced by Affiliates to complement and amplify the Smithsonian’s national program.

In 2010, Smithsonian Affiliations met with colleagues at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History on a concept for a new program— one in which students confront enduring questions of power, representation, privilege, and choice through peer-to-peer discussions, individual reflections, and shared action planning. The National Youth Summit would take place at the National Museum of American History, while Affiliates would host regional youth summits to amplify and augment the national program, allowing middle and high school students in Affiliate communities to discuss local issues.

With the assistance of five Affiliate museums, the first National Youth Summit launched on February 9, 2011, and commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Freedom Rides. The Summit featured Freedom Ride veterans and scholars discussing civic activism and the history of the Freedom Rides. Since that original program, there have been seven Youth Summits with Affiliate collaboration, with topics ranging from women’s suffrage to systemic racism, Japanese American incarceration to the war on poverty, and featured speakers like the late Congressman John Lewis-(D-GA) and documentarian Ken Burns.

five people sit on a stage in an auditorium filled with young people

National Youth Summit at the Japanese American National Museum. Photo courtesy JANM.

The topics are national, but the impact is local. Affiliates exemplify this with customized programs for local students—programs that reflect the demographics and lived experiences of youth in their community and center the community’s history through museum programming and interpretation. Over the past decade, the regional summits have reached thousands of young people and inspired numerous discussions about important events in America’s past that have relevance to the nation’s present and future.

Auditoriam at the birmingham civil rights institute

National Youth Summit at Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Photo courtesy Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

The National Youth Summit with Affiliate regional conversations continues to grow and play a vital role. By extending the reach to schools who might otherwise not be able to participate, by expanding historical content available through the program, and by creating deeply meaningful learning that relates to the actual lived experiences of students in underrepresented communities, Affiliates continue to show why they are critical venues for a national conversation.

An eighth Youth Summit is in the works for Fall 2021. Until then, catch up on past programs and conversation kits on the National Youth Summit website.

Stay tuned next month for Chapter 3: 10 Years of Reaching for the Stars Together, in our 25th anniversary series.