Lessons learned by children early in life require careful teaching to instruct the young ones in the basic precepts of life. Truthfully, “it takes a village" to "leave no child behind.” Ideas and problems combine to launch young adults on life’s pathway and color their view of our country, the world and, most importantly, themselves.

The Highlander Center is responding to these needs through "The Young and the Restless,” a program which offers the democratic space and skills for youth aged 13-19, enabling them to find their own voices and giving them tools for leadership.

One workshop, "Seeds of Fire," provides 20-25 young activists with peer-based training and experiences that open up the concepts of youth power. They discover tools for thinking, organizing, and ownership of their own projects and organizations. Conrad Honicker of Knoxville recently participated in the three-day program.

"Well, what truly prompted me to go to an activist training," he prefaced, "was that I just wanted to learn more. 'Seeds of Fire' essentially focuses how youth address social issues. It's free," he chortles, "but has a limited amount of spots."

Honicker embraced the idyllic atmosphere, the mountain scenery, and the perfect weather.

“Nina, the head cook, makes the best food you could imagine,” he raves. “I mean, I ate better than I do most days. Everyone was over 18, except for me. No crushes, and I already have a boyfriend. Jake. Some great friends were made, and I got to hang out with my alternate family so there wasn't any home sickness. Highlander is my home away from home."

Aside from the Highlander experience, activism is in Honker’s genes. He affirms a history of family activism.

"A whole line of 'em. My grandfather, on dad’s side, wrote the first story about Rosa Parks, and knew Martin Luther King Jr. Now he and my grandmother are fighting in the anti-nuclear movement,” Honicker said. "My mom and dad, when I was little, worked with and defended whistle blowers from DOE. My mom was one of the three counselors who worked and advised on the Campbell vs. Sundquist case. Both my brothers hiked the Appalachian Trail, and one of my older brothers is very environmentally aware and friendly, while the other is becoming a doctor."

Politically, Honicker affiliates with the Democratic Party, but tends to agree with the Greens and some of the more peaceful anarchist beliefs that are idealistic and optimistic. After the "Seeds of Fire" experience, he thinks anyone can be an activist and stand up for their beliefs, but he thinks that the word activist can sometimes be associated with a certain stereotype.

Honicker is very comfortable with his sexual orientation. Being gay was not an issue at Highlander.

"As a youngster," Conrad remembers, “I always knew I was different. It wasn't until I was at the Highlander Children's Camp that I came out as gay. That was right before sixth grade. Many of the people there [at Highlander] fell under the GLBT community," he says. "In fact, a majority of them were gay. So it wasn't like people were asking me questions about being gay. There was more of a comfortable relationship experience."  

The Holding Hands demonstration at Krutch Park in July came literally right after this camp.

"The demonstration, though my idea, would not have been able to happen without the experienced adults who were alongside Jake Green, Sara Williford, and me," acknowledges Honicker. Now the question for Conrad is what to do next.

"I'm working in my age group by starting a gay-straight alliance at my school [West High School]. I will always remain involved in activism, but I also want to lead a normal life and have a nice house, kids and a job because that's what I want to do. If not, then I'll have to set my priorities when the time comes. However, if I'm not mistaken, Martin Luther King, Jr. had a family." Honicker will also be active in the gay movement as long as it is needed.

His heroes are all reformers and rebels like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Alice Paul, Che Guevara, and Siddhartha Gautama.

"I'm a pacifist already,” says Honicker. Even in class, he courts diversity. “Some of the people at my school are conservative, Republican, African American. As a youngster, I have been color blind to race, the only thing I cannot seem to get past is fashion.”

“I feel like I've matured because of 'Seeds of Fire.' It challenges my education, because I believe we're taught in schools that seem more like holding cells,” he asserts. “Because my friends don't share the same core beliefs as I do, my family worries that I'm in too deep. My mom says I seem more bold."

Conrad will attend another "Seeds of Fire" camp and offers to all his resounding belief that in spite of everything, there is good in people.

For more information visit http://www.highlandercenter.org/p-young.asp. The Highlander Center is located at 1959 Highlander Way, New Market, Tenn. 37820, and can be reached at (865) 933-3443 or hrec@highlandercenter.org.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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