All over the country, YEA Campers are doing amazing things. Debunking the stereotype of the apathetic teenager, these young leaders are informed, committed, and taking action to making our world a better place.
When 16-year-old Katy Foley, who attended our Oregon camp this past summer, let us know that she and her Youth Ending Slavery (YES) chapter led a huge crowd of people for a Walk to End Slavery, we asked her to tell us about it, and we’re thrilled to share her story here below. Way to go, Katy!
By Katy Foley
Stereotypically, Portland, Oregon, is known for hipsters, bikers, coffee, and all-around weirdness. However, on one Saturday afternoon, my club members and I took to the city streets, adding another word to this list: activism. With strength in numbers, I helped lead a vocal group, 100 strong, to march in a walk to end modern-day slavery. The event was convened by Youth Ending Slavery (YES), a student-led organization that I am so honored to work with.
Many people don’t realize that slavery still exists and is a far too prevalent injustice in our world today. This is an atrocity not to be misconstrued as solely an issue of the past or a crime of developing countries.
There are different forms of slavery today, from workers in the coffee, chocolate, or diamond industries, to young people who are trafficked in the sex trade — something that has become a shocking problem in my area.
Oregon is a state deeply plagued with this injustice. Specifically, Portland is often cited as a city with one of the highest rates of juvenile sex trafficking in the country. This opportunistic crime in the Portland metropolitan area is due to a confluence of issues— this includes Portland’s growing juvenile homeless population, two major highway routes, an international airport, and a high concentration of strip clubs (which is not to say that all strip clubs practice this form of illegal exploitation, but some have been linked to trafficking fronts).
From improving legal and legislative approaches in the decriminalization of trafficking victims (those who have been criminalized and erroneously identified as prostitutes) to a more aggressive strategy that includes prosecuting traffickers, Oregonians have taken action against this injustice in recent years. Citizens, students, and law enforcement are also working to raise awareness and education among both youth and adults by starting organizations like Youth Ending Slavery. I was inspired by efforts like these against a crime that exploits far too many, which inspired me to join YES and to become its outreach director.
YES is an entirely youth-led nonprofit organization whose mission is to combat modern-day slavery by raising awareness, and, just like YEA Camp, aims to empower and motivate youth to be advocates for change. YES does this through educational speaking engagements, facilitating YES chapters at local high schools, hosting fundraising events for partnered anti-trafficking organizations, and organizing awareness campaigns, such as the Walk to End Slavery.
Championing the streets, YES and all who walked beside us drew attention of those coffee- drinking, long-bearded Portlanders, voicing their intolerance for the injustice in the words, “Slavery ends with you and me / youth ending slavery!” and demanding “People over profit!”
The walk showcased the importance of awareness, empathy and community in the fight for social change. YES urged its supporters to acknowledge that activism can be a one-person effort, but the contribution of the masses affects greater change– and who better to make this change than young people?
When I had the chance to speak in front of the crowd, I said, “We believe that educating youth about the existence of slavery is crucial because the rising generation has the opportunity and responsibility to create a world in which unjust practices in the name of profit are not tolerated.”
To get involved with YES or learn more about its work, visit YouthEndingSlavery.org.
If you are or someone you know is a teen who is passionate about social justice like Katy is, join us at YEA Camp this summer! You’ll get to be part of an amazing community filled with inspiring people like Katy, find your voice on an issue that’s important to you, and take your change-making to the next level. And don’t wait. Our early bird discount ends February 1. Find out more or register for YEA Camp here.
And follow this blog to read more inspiring stories like this from teens doing amazing things to make our world a better place.