Falmouth teenager hopes town talks about tough topics

Emily Charest and her grandmother Barbara Keefe, of Falmouth. Contributed Emilie Charest

Emily Charest, a senior at Falmouth High School, was inspired by both her grandmother and a civil rights class to organize a series of talks designed to open up dialogues about difficult topics at her school and in his community.

The Let’s Talk event on Sunday, February 13, at the high school auditorium, is inspired by the popular TEDTalks videos, of which Charest is a fan. Topics will be race, women’s rights and consent education.

Charest’s goal is to bring the kind of thought-provoking discussions she had with her grandmother to her peers and neighbors. Every Sunday, her grandmother, Barbara Keefe, has brunch, as they usually discuss recent articles by New York Times reporter Maureen Dowd or Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, who both write about politics, pop culture and international affairs.

“(My grandmother) was a big role model in my life. I want to bring that experience of having open conversations to the Falmouth community,” Charest said. “I also got to take a civil rights class this year and thought some of the open conversations we had there would be really good to spread to the rest of the school.”

Keefe helped start what is now the Maine Women’s Lobby, an organization that advocates local, state, and federal public policy to improve the quality of life for Maine women who identify with women. She also taught at the Baxter School for the Deaf in Falmouth and spent her life advocating for people with disabilities.

“When she saw a barrier, she ran to break it instead of waiting for someone else to fix it,” Charest said. “I remember at a young age she talked about the importance of knowledge and autonomy. When I was young, I was terribly shy and she encouraged me to work for a voice, and that was the best form of encouragement in my life.

Through Let’s Talk, Charest said she hopes people realize, “I hope people feel like they can have these open conversations in school and realize that these topics can be a bit more relevant and not something you only talk about in a few classes. said Charest.

“A big part of high school is finding your identity. I was hoping this might make it easier to be who you are as a student and make some students not feel the need to hide aspects of themselves.

She lined up three speakers for Let’s Talk.

Dr. Larissa Malone, an assistant professor at the University of Southern Maine and a critical race theorist, will discuss the intersection of race and education.

“A high school setting provides an opportunity to reach a new generation and share an important topic that is often misrepresented in public discourse,” Malone said. “I hope people will take away from my presentation that in a racialized society, school settings are no exception to the challenges we face when it comes to injustice. We all have a role to play in building a fairer world and I hope my presentation will inspire meaningful engagement on this topic.

Anne Gass, of Gray, is the great-granddaughter of Maine’s suffrage leader Florence Brooks Whitehouse. She has written two books, one specifically about Whitehouse’s life and her fight for women’s suffrage in the early 20th century, and another historical fiction novel based on a true story of suffragettes during a road trip across the country to Washington DC to demand the right to vote.

“One thing many people don’t know is that, nearly a century after its introduction, the federal Equal Rights Amendment has still not been incorporated into the US Constitution. There’s a big discussion going on in Congress right now. Similarly, in Maine, women are still not equal under our state constitution,” Gass said. “It’s hard to understand. Women are taxed equally with men, and during the pandemic we owe a huge debt to women for helping their families and our economy find a way forward. Yet our society does not value women enough to make us equal under the fundamental documents of our country and our state.

Gass also serves on the Maine Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, which is a nonpartisan advisory board that advises Maine policymakers on issues that impact Maine women and girls. During her portion of Let’s Talk, she plans to combine women’s history with current issues facing women.

Charest discovered Oronde Cruger through her 2018 TEDTalk on redefining masculinity. Cruger is the program manager for Speak About It, a Portland-based consent education and sexual assault prevention nonprofit that partners with schools.

“I would like to help empower young people, especially young people with marginalized identities who are taught to hide. I want them to understand that it is okay to want more for yourself and to thrive” , said Cruger. “For the older people in the room, I would like them to see how we close the doors to communication without even realizing it, in order to help the older people to be a little more intentional in the way they approach conversations so everyone feels they can show up and be themselves.

Cruger plans to make his presentation interactive with the use of a texting app that will allow attendees to be anonymous when sending him questions about consent and healthy relationships that they would otherwise be uncomfortable asking. pose in public.

Although he has avoided public events during the pandemic, he could not refuse Charest’s request because it is important to support “young people who take charge of themselves and organize an event that meets the need they see. “, did he declare.

Let’s Talk, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Sundays, is free and open to the public.

Charest civil rights teacher Jessica White said she hoped the event would draw a large crowd of young people “who are eager to listen and learn.”

For the future, Charest says this is the type of project she hopes to do again in college, where she plans to major in psychology to further prison reform.

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