On behalf of the Youth Advisory Board, I want to welcome you to National Crittenton’s In Solidarity We Rise: Healing, Opportunity, and Justice for Girls 2019 event. Consider how powerful we are, and how much power will be under one roof this weekend.

Then think about how powerful we are all year.

This work happens all year, all the time. This gathering is just a cross section of our larger movement — the movement for healing, opportunity and justice for girls and women. Thinking about it this way, the work that we do here at In Solidarity matters because it helps us do this work the rest of the year. This is our water stop in a marathon.

While young people are influential and essential members of the community, they are systemically dismissed and excluded. This is adultism: the systemic bias that adults are more credible, competent, and deserving of participation in government and other decision-making. We are guilty of it in ways big and small, and the sum of our actions prevents young people from being part of the movement — hurting our movement’s future.

I want the adults at In Solidarity to join me in respecting and elevating youth perspectives, with special emphasis on the voices that we do not often hear. There is no liberation for us all without breaking down adultism. This is equity at work.

Audre Lorde said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” This is rule one: only in solidarity can we rise.

If equity is the closing of systemic and structural gaps in power, then our equity work must be intersectional (a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw) in order to succeed. That means that it must recognize power imbalances that marginalize black people, queer and trans people, women and femmes, disabled people, people of color and immigrants, and young people.

Only if our equity work is intersectional can we work together, stay together.

It must be ever seeking to identify and close gaps in understanding through compassionate dialogue. It must bear nuance: it must balance our marginalization in some aspects of our identities, and our privilege in others. Only if our equity work is intersectional can we work together, stay together.

If I’m being honest, we cannot afford to fall apart. This is an intergenerational fight for our future. We need all of us.

What does it mean to be intergenerational?

Healing cannot happen without knowledge of our past, present, and future. The success of this gathering, and the work that comes after, depends on the ability of previous generations to share the stage, and share power, with future generations.

It requires trusting youth to lead, not just participate. It requires convening all generations to sit at the table, and draw a roadmap for our collective future. It requires leaning into our collective power.

It’s a heady thing to think about.

That’s why I’m so grateful to be able to welcome you all to this gathering. We have a few days to hear from each other, learn from each other, and elevate and celebrate the wisdom of others. We are trading the skills and writing the agenda for the movement ahead of us.

We need all of us. We have all of us. Thank you for coming to In Solidarity to begin the work.

Smitha Gundavajhala is one of eight members of the In Solidarity 2019 Youth Advisory Board.