More than 100 people attended a banquet for a closing celebration of the UNC Catalyst Conference, which was held Friday, Feb. 20 through Sunday, Feb. 22. The conference gathers North Carolina high school students and teaches them about social justice.
Co-chairwomen Adeola Keku and Mattie Burroughs said the UNC Catalyst group has held the conference for more than a decade. Both of them have been involved in the organization since they were sophomores.
“I did a program like this in high school,” Burroughs said. “I looked forward to something similar to get involved in. And Catalyst is the one that fit in.”
Keku said she thinks Catalyst gives people a chance to open up and know more about one another.
“Seeing how students can open up and share their stories is just remarkable,” Keku said.
Keku also said that her favorite part of the conference is the game ‘crossing lines,’ because it allows students to know more about one another. In ‘crossing lines,’ students are asked to step forward when a statement is read that applies to them.
“‘Crossing lines’ changed the whole dynamic of Catalyst,” Keku said. “You really get to know what people’s stories are and what their background is. I really like hearing people’s stories and getting to know who they really are.”
The members of UNC Catalyst have prepared for the conference for a long time.
“We spent all year planning for it. Last semester we met every other weekend or every other week,” Michelle Nguyen, the entertainment co-chairwoman of UNC Catalyst, said.
This year, 65 counselors and 92 participants attended the conference.
High school participant Hilda Kolawole talked about her reasons for attending the conference.
“I’m here because I’m a feminist,” Kolawole said. “I think it’s important to encourage young girls to know who they are.”
Maria Peralta Porras, a high school student from Chapel Hill, said the event empowered her to spread her story.
“It gave me more empowerment to go back to my community and to be willing to spread out and talk about my experiences, mainly because I’m an undocumented Hispanic student in Chapel Hill,” Porras said.
The students also heard an encouraging speech by Taffye Clayton, the associate vice chancellor of diversity and multicultural affairs at UNC.
“Even if you’re not quite sure yet what your purpose is, clarity of purpose will come,” Clayton said. “Be thoughtful, and reflect about what inspires you. Be open to new ways of thinking, being and doing.”