Making a Difference: I - CREATE YOUTH
I recently interviewed Jess Kim from I - CREATE Youth about the organization's important work of empowering disabled youth. Jess is very accomplished, she's the National Youth Poet Laureate runner up and author of a book L(EYE)GHT.
AW: Tell us all about you and your organization!
JK: I’m Jess Kim, the founder of I-CREATE YOUTH, an organization that empowers, educates, and connects disabled youth through language in its various forms. I started writing poetry when the pandemic first hit, and that compelled me to speak up about my experience as a visually impaired person. I wanted to make my activism for disability justice a communal one, so I started I-CREATE YOUTH. At first, we focused on creative writing as a tool to share the stories of youth with disabilities but we’ve since expanded our vision to accommodate the diverse bodies language can occupy—not just in creative writing, but in programming languages, math as a language, and foreign languages to name a few.
For two years, I-CREATE YOUTH has worked with hundreds of youth through our programs, publications, and projects. We started with a small team in June 2020 and created syllabi for creative writing classes. We created a letters gallery to send encouraging messages to disabled youth, hosted a fellowship program where fellows can work on a research project on disability representation, and published dozens of emerging writers through Kalonopia, a literary collective to share stories on disability. I’m excited to see what’s in store for I-CREATE YOUTH in the next few years!
AW: Why do you think it’s important for your generation to let their voices be heard?
JK: Now more than ever, sharing our stories has become instantaneous and accessible. Gen Z-ers are already born in the digital age, but with the pandemic shifting all interactions into the virtual world, utilizing technology to represent the diversity of voices is a requisite. And I’m seeing a lot of this in action: activism-related Instagram accounts, personal blogs, YouTube channels, and even spoken word poetry. While we’re quick to think that one person’s voice does not matter to the world, Gen Z is living proof of our capacity for social good. National and international entities are recognizing the youth mental health crisis, and young changemakers ranging from Amanda Gorman to Greta Thunberg are raising awareness on racism and oppression or the climate crisis. Every one of us needs to speak our truth because we are part of a civic-minded community.
AW: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
JK: Optimistic. Despite how divided and cruel our world is, we have made tremendous progress compared to a century or two ago. I believe we’ll continue to fight for an improved world that knows how to mitigate and mediate political, economic, and humanitarian crises. I believe in Gen Z.
AW: What are the most important issues facing our world right now? And in the future?
JK: One important issue at hand is the physical and mental health of our youth. Across the United States, adults and children with anxiety and depression have increased significantly due to the pandemic. Mental health is such a pressing issue because it affects the education, social interactions, and intellectual development of our youth. Similarly, the pandemic has taken a toll on our physical health. We’ve been living sedentary lifestyles while in quarantine, and concerns over obesity and body positivity have become more common. Through my poetry and work with I-CREATE YOUTH, I try to represent and tackle these issues authentically.
In the future, I think the role of technology in our daily lives will become a significant issue. Even now, technology is replacing humans: self-checkout machines are replacing cashiers, self-driving cars are replacing drivers, and even medical equipment are replacing doctors. When technology becomes the new norm, we’ll face a myriad of economic and ethical issues. Being a generation on the brink of this transition, I believe we should be mindful of the balance between people and the machine. I also believe we should preserve human connections and communities in the face of this digital world. With a forward-looking mindset, I revised I-CREATE YOUTH’s mission last year to harness the stories of disabled youth in the digital space.
AW: What does your organization offer that helps the world be a better place?
JK: I-CREATE YOUTH is an organization by and for disabled students. Amidst many youth-led organizations bringing positive change to the community, I think I-CREATE YOUTH is unique in shedding light on the disability experience. We are big on equipping disabled students with the knowledge and tools necessary to advocate for themselves, as well as educating the general public through narratives by disabled youth. Our programs, such as our annual fellowship program and summer research scholars program serve to educate those who support the disability community. We have monthly exhibitions such as Women’s History Month and Poetry and Disability Justice that highlight disabled artists and innovators. We also post infographics on our blog and Instagram to raise awareness for all things disability-related. I want to be a pioneer in making disability widely visible and celebrated among youth.
AW: Will you be voting in the next election?
JK: Yeah! I just turned 18 and recently voted in the California Statewide Direct Primary Election. It was thrilling to vote for the first time in my life. I will vote in the General Election in November later this year as well as future ones like the presidential elections in 2024. I think the American public takes voting rights for granted but is disappointed in low voter turnouts, so I’m trying to make a difference. Every vote counts.
AW: Please tell us all about your current campaigns, projects, and endeavors. Tell everyone where to find you online and on social platforms.
JK: We just launched our Summer Research Scholars Program, a 6-week program to work on a research project on any topic spanning from biochemistry and computer science to creative writing and gender equity. Each scholar is paired one-on-one with an experienced mentor. In addition, we’re also looking for staff writers for our blog and creative writers for Kalonopia Collective. I-CREATE YOUTH is looking for team members, ranging from chapter leads to graphic designers. Last but not least, in anticipation of Disability Pride Month in July, we’ll be showcasing many disabled stories, opportunities, and resources. Keep a lookout on our website at icreateyouth.com or our social media platforms @icreateyouth on Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, and Facebook!
You can reach out to me personally at my website, jessicakimwrites.weebly.com.
AW: What goes into your creative process, is it something that comes easily to you?
JK: I write when I have bursts of creative energy and the inspiration usually comes from the news, songs, movies, and writing by other authors and poets. Many of my poems are “after” poems like “Shattered” written after Sally Wen Mao or “Mikrokosmos” after the same song by BTS. Other times, I’m inspired by poetic forms such as abecedarians or golden shovels; I find room for freedom and creativity while being constrained by a predefined structure. Some of the strongest pieces I’ve written are (broken) abecedarians and ghazals. Other than seeking inspiration from others or through structured poetry, I sit down to write and the lines just flow naturally out of me. I think my INFP energy allows me to create worlds out of a directionless void. In that sense, I mostly feel that poetry comes to me easily and naturally, especially now that I’ve been a poet for over two years. That said, I don’t create constantly. With the craze of school, running I-CREATE YOUTH, and everything in between, I sometimes go for weeks without writing. When I’m preoccupied with other responsibilities or running low on creative energy, taking breaks and resting is equally valuable to me. In some ways, my creativity comes easily because I allow myself to rest.
Audrey Willett is a southern California junior in high school. She is an activist and aspiring filmmaker, and the Social Media Outreach coordinator for The Gen Z Collective.