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Youth Image Summit keeps kids, entertainers coming back

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By Sean Kennedy

      Now celebrating its fifth year, the 2019 Brighton’s Youth Image Summit has drawn a sellout crowd of 300 kids from around the state. Throw in the scores of volunteers, guest speakers and entertainers who will put on the program, and you’ve got a packed Armory building buzzing with excitement on a cheerfully sunny morning. For some, the 2019 summit is their second, third or even fourth time participating in the event.

      But what has kept them coming back?

      “This is just such a great community of kids and organizers,” said Blake Fly, an entertainer and emcee at this year’s summit, “It’s a lot of fun to be here.”

      Fly, a Canadian motivational speaker and entertainer, has been a guest at the last few image summits organized by Brighton’s office of youth services. While these kinds of events may seem somewhat typical for a professional guest speaker such as Fly, who says he was inspired to pursue what he does after a presentation by guest speakers when he was in high school, he said that the Youth Image Summit stands out among the events he guests at because of the spirit of the Brighton community.

      “(The summit) is real intimate with lots of energy… and that’s rare,” Fly said, “To have an event that is so intimate but that the kids are still engaged and into is really special.”

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Editor's Note: A slideshow of pictures from the 2019 Youth Image Summit can be viewed here

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     One of the first speakers scheduled for the summit, speaker and singer Jessi Funk, is fervently sharing personal stories and lessons learned about struggles she’s experienced in past friendships and relationships.

      While it might seem odd for a grown woman to be dishing on her past with a crowd of teenagers and kids, Funk’s underlying message is clear. She weaves each story into a lesson – how to deal with stress, the importance of identifying red flags in relationships, the personal right to set boundaries and expectations for how one is treated.

      Funk’s presentation is centered around empowerment, and it’s clear the kids are picking up on the power. They eagerly sing along as Funk closes her presentation with a cover of a Beyoncé song and heartily help Fly surprise Funk with a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday,’ raising their phones to simulate candlelight.

      The energy and enthusiasm continue as the kids spill out in mostly-organized fashion to the multitude of breakout activities they’ll visit throughout the first day of the summit, each one designed to test their perseverance and courage and give them an opportunity to express themselves in a different way.

      In the parking lot, a long line of fifth-grade students takes on a Ninja    Nation obstacle course, a kid-sized but still-daunting version of the obstacle courses used in the popular “American Ninja Warrior” television series. Though only a handful of kids throughout the day will manage to successfully scale the final obstacle – the warped wall – there are no quitters or sour faces to be found, as kids laugh and run unsuccessfully at the curved wall again and again and again.

      In another area, a group of elementary and middle-school students giggle nervously as they divide into teams for a public-speaking challenge. Their charge: extemporize for one minute about a given topic without pausing or using filler words like ‘um’ or ‘ah’. If they do, the speaker for the other team can challenge and take over. The first topic, pineapples, draws frustration and uncertainty from some early participants. But the kids settle in for the next topic, zombies, and do quite well, apparently finding it easier to talk about a fictional subject than a real one.

      Inside the Armory, kids’ empowerment is turned to action. Several political figures from around the region gather to have individual group discussions with summit attendees, and the kids harness the opportunity.

      Those thinking kids know nothing about politics or have no strong feelings about world events would not like this event. Elementary-aged kids tell Brighton City Councilman Mark Humbert of their significant concern over insufficient funding for Colorado schools. Others complain about “drama” in the media and political spheres.

      Brighton City Councilman Greg Mills later expresses surprise in the strong feelings shared by the kids he talked to over oil and gas legislation and its potential impact on the state’s economy and environment.

      A teenager expresses concern to Lochbuie Mayor Pro Tem David Ott over the state’s water infrastructure and tells a story about how her hometown had to borrow water from elsewhere due to people getting sick from the contaminated local water supply. Poverty. Inflation. The high price of food. The youthful attendees of the summit have a lot to say when given the platform, and they are not shying away from the opportunity.

      The entertainment and empowerment continue into a second day, culminating in a free-choice variety of closing entertainment. As the final hours wind down, kids – those not waiting in the ice-cream line, that is – are dancing, taking photos, chatting, laughing and reflecting on what they’d gleaned from the summit’s events. On the front patio of the Armory, organizers have left a box drum and guitar for students to jam on.

      A blue-haired student eagerly takes on the box drum as a girl works out a riff on the guitar and a small group of students gather around them. As the soft beats and notes tinkle through the afternoon air, it’s clear that the summit and the hard work of the Brighton community has kids singing a different, clearer tune.