Join Us Under The BigTent

Idea Leader:
Talitha Halley

Location: Houston, TX

Partner Organization: Communities in Schools Houston

Project Summary: A national youth-focused conference, Big Tent convened by The Search Institute, occurred in Houston in fall of 2010.  Working with Communities in Schools of Houston, Talitha Halley, 18, organized students from four schools to take advantage of this event to meet national leaders, learn effective youth voice strategies, and build capacity among student leaders.


Big Tent Conference Provides Forum for Youth Leaders to Express Their Voices

Before I knew about Big Tent, I expressed my concerns about dropouts and other problems in my community to my mentor Ms. Donna Wotkyns. I was looking for some way to make a change on my school campus.  When the chance came around for students from CIS to go to the Big Tent Conference, I was a good advocate for leading the group.

The first step was getting money so students from Houston could attend. So I sat down with a few CIS adults and wrote a grant proposal that we were awarded. We were able to take 34 students from the Houston area: 11 from Austin High School, 11 from Milby High School, and 11 from Eastwood  Academy. I was representing Sharpstown High School. This was the start of our great journey for Houston and other cities across America to “JOIN US UNDER THE BIG TENT.”

Once we arrived at the conference we got acquainted with each other and settled in. Later we met with a group of students who had attended Big Tent in previous years; they gave us an overview of the program including what we should expect, and the dos and don’ts. After we had that first meeting we went into a big room with all the students who were attending and had a big party.

After all the introductions and explanations, we were free to go to whatever session we wanted, which ranged from: Poetry & What Hip Hop Means to America to How To Do it Right the First Time in College. From these lessons we learned a variety of things such as: what are the best decisions to make in college, signs of depression in a student peer or yourself, how powerful your voice is, and things like stand up for your rights and what you believe in. With activities like this we learned the types of leaders there are, how to be a great leader, leadership qualities, and by speaking who was and wanted to be a leader.

Big Tent had and will always have a lasting effect on students attending these high schools in Houston. Through these events we have adopted a new way of seeing the world and the things around us. And not only how to recognize problems, but we know how to analyze and do something about it instead of being a bystander watching the world go by, contributing to the hurt and not the help.

One of the greatest lessons learned was simply that everyone has a voice and is here for a reason. Big Tent also helped a lot of us realize what our “spark” is and its greatest use. When it came to the 40 Developmental Assets, I, like many other students had never heard of it prior to Big Tent. After I found out what they were it was common sense and pretty self explanatory. By learning what the 40 Developmental Assets were, a lot of us are now able to help our peers accomplish and reach their greatest potential by providing everything we can or find someone who can help them.

Through this we built relationships by connecting and discussing the things that were going on around us and what we were doing to help. We exchanged ideas on how we can start helping and some of the things we were doing already. I am sure there is no greater bond than the ones you form between people who are like you, unique, and embrace learning from others as well as contributing to the growth of other human beings. We did all this in three days imagine the greatness that the world could accomplish if we were all on one accord, as ready and willing as the people I met during the conference!

With all the concluded ideas and the last keynote speaker Tristan Love’s speech, we left there with a different outlook on life and a millions ways to start great things. Next year we hope to have more students at the BIG TENT OMAHA and find even better ways to help out our communities. As of now, many of us have attended follow-up seminars in the Houston area conducting small projects and ideas on things to do now, such as community service projects.

In conclusion, our GREATEST thanks goes to America’s Promise for giving us the opportunity no one else would have. And a special thanks to the Search Institute for hosting such an event these past years and investing in the world and the future of young people all over the world.