The National Rural Youth Assembly

photograph by Shawn Poynter

53 rural youth from 28 states recently gathered in Sante Fe, New Mexico, on the grounds of the Institute of American Indian Arts, for the 2010 National Rural Youth Assembly. It was the the first such gathering of its kind. The young people, age 18-25, met as part of the larger patchwork of The National Rural Assembly, a body made up of hundreds of local organizations whose mission is to improve the state of rural America by building upon their “guiding principle” that “an inclusive, prospering, and sustainable rural America improves prospects for us all.”

The Youth Assembly worked toward these ends as well, discussing a series of issues central to their home communities such as “job creation, education, local culture, and conserving natural resources. What’s most exciting, in visiting the site, and listening to the participant’s perspectives below, is how a dialogue is developing here where the younger members of these rural communities are beginning to see a number of continuities between their own rural areas and those across the country, and even across national lines. 

Instead of summarizing all of this myself, I invite you to listen to their stories below. Visit the Youth Assembly Blog for more videos and essays from the participants. Appalshop’s community radio station WMMT has also recently produced a Radio Gram episode from the Rural Youth Assembly that’s worth considering. 

Though the work of the Assembly, to some, may not seem to have an immediate link to what we’ve discussed here at The Art of the Rural, I believe that some time spent listening to these stories will prove otherwise. It’s clear that the preservation of these local cultures and the making of art are interrelated processes, that each contribute to the health of their communities. Indeed, within the rural arts, the notion of preservation is central: so many of the efforts we have highlighted in these pages speak to that impulse to save and preserve rural culture. It’s incredibly heartening, then, to see this dispatch from The Rural Youth Assembly, and to see these young people–including those of the diaspora who might return–begin to take these cultural traditions and artforms and re-imagine them for a new generation of rural citizens.

Here’s Hwineko Walkingstick talking about “the youth movement” he sees happening in his hometown of Cherokee, North Carolina:

Here’s Renee Steffen from Miller City, Ohio talking about the importance of leadership and community programs to the vitality of rural America:

Nella Parks, from Cove, Oregon contributes here another facet to the dialogue–how a new generation is considering the role of agriculture in local food systems: