Sarah Whites-Koditschek walks with a purposeful gait, her shoulders taking the lead and a determination behind her steps that fall heavy on her brown leather Birkenstocks. She’s clad in slacks with a tank top over her broad shoulders, hanging a bit from her thin frame. The 19-year-old has dark, calm eyes. They seem to record and take notes as she nods occasionally. Her knuckles cover her pursed lips. Her dark hair is almost within Army regulations for men. Whites-Koditschek stretches a lot. Hardly a moment goes by when she’s not tugging at one elbow or another, which reveals a rather large scar that other women would go to lengths to cover. But this restlessness is possibly because of stress. She just organized Columbia’s first Youth Activist Conference.
“They’re really doing an excellent job,” said Hilary Aid, an adult volunteer helping with the conference. Aid insists that Whites-Koditschek and her small crew did all the organizing themselves.
“It’s people learning things that they might not have known otherwise,” said Danny Giles, one of the conference’s organizers. He will be a sophomore at Hickman High School this fall.
“I’ve known Sarah for a while. She asked if I’d be interested in an event for gay rights and the environment. For the past couple weeks I’ve been involved in organizing,” Giles said.
When asked about motivation behind the conference, 14-year-old organizer Saxon Brown attributed it to “the need for youth to be inspired to activism and for them to have a community where they belong in the right ways, where they can have intellectual conversation and still get silly.”
The conference itself consisted of two workshop sessions that ran for about 90 minutes. The sessions were held in separate rooms of MU’s Memorial Union and consisted of six topics: politics, community building, reproductive rights, environment, poverty and hunger, and gay rights. “We really dealt pretty primarily with the young people,” said Whites-Koditschek, a Hickman graduate who now attends Smith College in Massachusetts.
The panels were made up of local activists in each area, and they answered questions from the about 50 12- to 19-year-olds in attendance. With the amount of advertising and invitations extended to about 250 area youths, Whites-Koditschek was disappointed with the turnout.
Those who did show up, however, became actively involved in the discussions.
“It was pretty cool to see a room full of young people talking about their community,” Whites-Koditschek said. “For me, I could imagine all these light bulbs turning on.”
“This community has given a lot to me,” Whites-Koditschek said.
Some of the local activists included Andrell Bower, cofounder of Columbia’s chapter of Food Not Bombs and a member of the MU Pankration Martial Arts Team; Judy Baker, Democratic candidate for the 25th District; Julie Baka, director of development at KOPN; Seileach Corleigh, president of Local National Organization of Women chapter; and Althea Skinner, founder of the Student Gay/Straight Alliance at Rock Bridge High School.