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Daring to Dream at #HealthyTeen22

Thank you for daring to dream with us in Miami!

Logo for Healthy Teen Network, featuring 3 interlocked orange circle outlines, and inside, outline drawings of a hand, a sunburst, and three people; below the circle, in teal, is the name, "Healthy Teen Network"

November 4, 2022

During our staff meeting before the conference, we asked everyone to share one thing they were excited about for this year’s conference. Every single person mentioned they were excited to be together, in person.  Yes, they also mentioned the workshop sessions, and our wonderful plenary speakers, but at the core it was all about creating connections and building relationships across the country. 

Being in Miami was a moment to take a breath and look around at all the people—colleagues, friends, soon to be friends who had come together for three days to learn, question, challenge, and have a little fun together.

Being in Miami was a moment to take a breath and look around at all the people—colleagues, friends, soon to be friends who had come together for three days to learn, question, challenge, and have a little fun together. 

This year, we asked you to join us in dreaming of a new era. In many ways, COVID freed us from some of those cant’s and wont’s…but it shouldn’t take a pandemic to let us break free and innovate. We have much work to do…and our general sessions each spoke about different ways we can get moving!

Setting the Stage with Dr. Tracie Gilbert and Dr. Gary Barker

Our opening keynote, Dr. Tracie Gilbert, set the stage for us to challenge past beliefs and push ourselves to improve sex education. If these last few years have reminded us of anything (or even that last 100 days), it’s that sexual freedom in the U.S. is under siege. And we know that is incredibly relevant for young people. We also know this is not new for those who’ve been historically and systemically oppressed.

So, what do we do? How do we reconcile grassroots progress made by impacted communities with the delayed efforts of those who have underestimated their own vulnerability? How do we get those on board who now must do their part to catch up to the fight? Though one session cannot contain all the answers, it was a moment to spell out the work (and opportunity!) that lies ahead of us all. Dr. Tracie Gilbert came to infuse us with vigor to “put up or shut up” for those dreams and visions we say we want.

Tuesday, we heard from Dr. Gary Barker on how our current culture of patriarchy and masculinity harms all young people, of all genders, and he offered a new frame for how we can contribute to a culture change through our individual and collective work.

We talk a lot about gender norms, and how our culture places expectations on us—what we look like, how we act, what are supposed to do. And we often feel the pressure to conform, to fit in with our community, our peers, or risk isolation. Dr. Gary Barker shared findings from his research, and how gender norms around masculinity can box boys and men in. We know how harmful and damaging this can be, and we need to generate a seismic culture shift to expand our definition of masculinity, to show healthy examples of manhood.

We closed conference with a resounding call for action, from a youth panel moderated by Dr. Elissa Barr. We’ve all seen regressive and discriminatory policies flooding legislatures across the country to limit reproductive and sexual liberties. Across the country, young people are standing up for their rights. Wednesday, we closed the conference with Aspen Schenker, Michaela Alphonse, Emma Johnson, and Zander Moricz—an inspiring panel of audacious and bold young people, who are advocating against the regressive and harmful policies here in Florida.

Our #HealthyTeen22 Awardees

We heard from our three amazing awardees—Jessica Ray (J.R.) Chester, Zander Moricz, and Deborah Levine, who accepted on behalf of imi.

The Innovation Award

The Innovation Award is near and dear to our hearts here at Healthy Teen Network because innovation helps us create solutions to meet the ever-changing lives of young people. With the Innovation Award, we celebrate solutions that can promote equity, reduce health disparities, and be inclusive and affirming of the needs of all young people. 

Deborah Levine accepted the 2022 Innovation award on behalf of imi (pronounced eye-me).

imi embodies all that we look for in innovation, as a creative and youth-centered approach to problem-solving that starts with young people and ends with an innovative tool tailor-made to meet their needs. The creation of imi was a labor of love. Hope Lab, CenterLink, the It Gets Better Project, and hundreds of LGBTQ+ youth played an active role in conceptualizing and co-designing the final product.

imi is a free, digital, research-backed mental health tool for LGBTQ+ youth. The tool was designed with and for LGBTQ+ teens, with an intentional focus on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming youth. imi helps LGBTQ+ youth explore and affirm their identity and learn practical approaches to cope with stress. (Read more on imi…)

The Outstanding Former Young Parent Award

From our start in 1979, back when Healthy Teen Network was first formed and called the National Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting (NOAPP), we have always focused on an often-overlooked group of young people: those who were pregnant and parenting. To be inclusive and affirming of all young people is just part of who Healthy Teen Network has always been.

And so, with the Outstanding Former Young Parent Award, we recognize a former young parent who has risen to the challenges of early parenting, has achieved extraordinary personal and/or professional success, and demonstrates phenomenal leadership. We were pleased to present Jessica Ray (J.R.) Chester with the 2022 Outstanding Former Young Parent Award.

As an advocate for birth equity and committed community member, J.R. Chester embodies this award. J.R. made a powerful, heartfelt acceptance speech that shined a light on why it’s crucial to uplift and support young parents and former young parents, and to “center the light instead of the darkness.” When asked about this accomplishment J.R. said, “I am honored to be the recipient of [this award]. I, like many other young parents, have raised children who are even more outstanding than ourselves. That is what I am most proud of. This award means that I have worked hard to contribute to and create a society in which Skylar, Ivory, Kameron, Ava, and Jessika [children of young parents] can excel.” (Read more about Jessica…)

The Standing Strong Award

It takes a legion of us, Standing Strong, to create a world where every young person can realize their right to live their authentic sexuality. That means making decisions about their own body and relationships—and feeling good doing it. Decisions about if, when, and how to parent—or not. And the freedom to become who they want to be.

With the Standing Strong award, we recognize true champions for all young people. We were so pleased this year to recognize Zander Moricz as the winner of the 2022 Standing Strong Award. Zander understands and uplifts the collective power of young people. Zander is working towards a world where all young people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are celebrated, included, and represented in policies that impact them. (Read more about Zander…)

The Machine of Forgotten and Remembered Passages Installation

We debuted a new interactive experience, The Machine of Forgotten and Remembered Passages. What do the books All Boys Aren’t Blue, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and Me and Earl and the Dying Girlall have in common? They were among the most common books banned by U.S. schools this year, yes, this year, in 2022. By entering The Machine, attendees could experience snippets from these books and were invited to tailor, with string, a unique banned book passage of their very own.

The Machine of Forgotten and Remembered Passages installation during #HealthyTeen22 that our Innovation & Research Department brought to life. 

Freed from the can’ts and won’ts of yesterday, we dare to dream of a new era.

The magic of being at conference in-person is taking in the power and the energy of being in a room with so many day-to-day champions for young people. We feel truly grateful to have spent this time learning with all of you.

Young people themselves are the heart and core of why we at Healthy Teen Network do this work. But it is each of you, the professionals who show up each day, wanting to do more, be better at our jobs, push back on intuitions or policies that are hindering, not helping, young people. You are what inspires us to keep at this day after day.

We often hear or use the saying, the only constant in life is change. And human beings, while creatures of habit, are also able to adapt and change. We, at Healthy Teen Network, know that change is needed and necessary, in not only the space of sex ed, but as we heard throughout #HealthyTeen22, across so many aspects of our culture.

Thank you for dreaming with us. And now your charge is to go and help to make this new future a reality for all our young people.

At Healthy Teen Network, we believe that every young person has a right to live their authentic sexuality. And we see you, the professionals and caring adults, helping them do this. We know you do your best when you're connected to great opportunities and resources. That's why we're here...to help make those connections and support you. Read more about us.