Rural youth from across the country meet at the Rural Caucus in Washington, D.C. this weekend to share stories, support and culinary metaphors.
Monday, March 9, 2015: A group of young people sit in a conference room in Arlington, Virginia, talking about cabbage.
Kim Phinney, director of YouthBuild USA’s Rural and Tribal initiative, stands before the 21 rural ambassadors aged 16-24 and representing nine states, many of whom have travelled outside their cities or across state lines for the first time. Each has been chosen to represent their local chapter of YouthBuild, a non-profit organization that provides training and leadership opportunities for low-income young people across the United States, at the Rural Caucus.
“Your job as leaders is to listen to and understand the needs and challenges and issues in your communities, but also look for the opportunities,” Phinney says, “So that’s our job today, is to ask, ‘where is the cabbage?’” Several young people nod in agreement before they break into small groups and present their ideas for how to create more vibrant rural towns.
Where is the cabbage?
Phinney’s question comes from an exercise the previous day in which participants displayed and talked about photos from their hometowns. When Denise from Hammond, Louisiana, stood up to share her photo, a cabbage sprouting out of a bare patch of ground lit up the projection screen.
"We don't get trash pick up where we live, so I separate what we need to throw away with what we can compost,” Denise explained. “One day I went outside to the compost pile and I saw this cabbage growing. I didn't plant it. Here was this thing, meant for decay, and life sprang from it."
Over the last two days, Rural Caucus participants shared stories and pictures, celebrating and commiserating with each other about similarities among their hometowns, from the beauty of the landscape to the lack of jobs. Photos of run-down parks, empty factory buildings and vacant downtowns made some similar themes obvious — like the need for recreational spaces, more employment opportunities, and better transportation.
But they’re also discovering stark differences. Stephen, who lives in Bogalusa, Louisiana, told his group that he knew several people who were killed in his hometown. Aaron from Lebanon, Oregon looked surprised. “I don’t think there’s been a murder in my town for the last 50 years,” he said. “If there was, everyone would be talking about it.”
Tyson, who is from Sisters, Oregon, pulled up a picture of the building where his local YouthBuild program meets. “We need places like YouthBuild in our communities to give young people a chance to better themselves. We all have problems, but having place where people believe in you—it’s everything. YouthBuild is our cabbage.”
See more photos from the YouthBuild Rural Caucus on the Daily Yonder's Facebook page.