By Leah Kelly
As the decade comes to a close, I reflect on the experiences that got me where I am today, as an activist and as a person. Five and a half years ago, as a 15-year-old, I attended Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp for the first time and my life was changed immeasurably. I can’t imagine how different my life would have been from then on had I not spent that pivotal week learning what it means to be an effective agent of change and forming lasting connections that supported, and continue to support me, as I navigate a chosen path of social justice and fighting for what I believe in.
Call to Activism
From the youngest age I can remember, I had always felt the need to stand against things I felt were unjust, but I didn’t really know how to put these feelings into words or actions. YEA Camp gave me the guidance, tools, and encouragement that led me to become a true activist by showing me what it means to turn empathy and passion into social change. It trained me in critical skills such as public speaking, effective communication, “elevator” pitches, leafleting, tabling, campaigning, organizing, and leadership. YEA Camp provided me with key resources such as social networking, data, insight and knowledge, club starter kits, support groups, and incredible and inspiring lifelong mentors and friends.
It takes a look back to realize that that summer of 2014 kickstarted, in some ways both overtly and indirectly, the journey I’ve chosen to pursue long into the future. The fall after I attended YEA Camp for the first time, I founded the animal rights club that I led for the rest of my three years of high school, an experience that truly ignited my leadership abilities and the feeling of self-empowerment I needed to believe I could really make a difference. YEA Camp inspired me to become fully vegan, an element of my life today that is most important to me. After I attended another session the next summer, YEA Camp helped me create and spearhead a plan to get the entire public school system in my town to implement Meatless Mondays. It was a success! We convinced the entire school district to implement Meatless Mondays!
YEA Camp in “the Real World”
Sometime during my time volunteering, supporting, and promoting nonprofit organizations in high school, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to continue doing this for the rest of my life. I want to dedicate myself to social justice activism. There are so many injustices in the world, but as YEA Camp taught me, every person can make a difference. I am particularly invested in fighting for animal rights, and meeting so many vegan activists at YEA Camp made me feel less alone and more hopeful about our collective ability to improve the treatment of non-human animals.
Since graduating high school, I chose to attend a private liberal arts college that I believe embodies the spirit of social justice and welcomes students who sometimes feel on the outskirts of society, empowering them to thrive in a non-judgmental space. Pitzer College in Claremont, California has often felt like YEA Camp to me in its supportive community and composition of young people who are dedicated to caring about and working to end oppression of all forms. I can’t be sure I would have ended up at this college, or where I am in life at all, had YEA Camp not turned me in the direction I needed to go.
Thank You, YEA Camp
Half a decade later, as the end of the 2010s approaches, I can only think back and feel grateful for everything that has gotten me to this place and point in time. I am so thankful for YEA Camp Director Nora Kramer’s dedicated vision to empowering youth to become the next benevolent, impassioned leaders of change. I can only imagine where I will be in another five years, but I do know one thing for sure: you will find me fighting for justice as hard as I ever have.
Leah Kelly is a current junior at Pitzer College in southern California, where she is majoring in sociology and international and intercultural studies with a minor in French. She just returned from a semester studying abroad in Paris. Leah is from Connecticut, where her mom, dad, younger sister, dog, and two cats reside. She is a passionate vegan animal rights activist and active member of her college’s animal rights club. Leah enjoys include being with animals, playing trumpet in concert band and jazz band, creative writing, making art, watching T.V., learning new things, exploring new places, and spending time with friends and family. She attended YEA Camp in 2014 and 2015, served on its Youth Advisory Board, and was the first camper editor for the YEA Camp blog.
We are so grateful we met Leah. If you know of any tween/teen, aged 12-17, who has a passion in activism, whether it be for animal rights, feminism, LGBTQ, racial justice, environmentalism, or any other topic, check out yeacamp.org to find out how to sign up for this week-long camp, held this summer in California and Massachusetts. Register by the end of the year to earn an early-bird discount of $250 or nominate someone who would be great for camp here!