Conversations about difficult topics like race, gender or sexuality might not come easily for most high school students.

But for the nearly 1,200 Colorado youth who attended the Cherry Creek Diversity Conference in February, those discussions are essential, no matter how controversial.

The annual day-long conference, organized by Denver nonprofit Youth Celebrate Diversity (YCD), gathers high school students from around the state to address issues reflecting the needs, interests and challenges of their daily lives.

The conference is planned by an executive committee of students, who are mentored by local adults like Anya Stinton, a senior divisional administrative assistant in RBC Wealth Management’s Denver office.

“It’s incredibly inspiring to see so many kids from so many different backgrounds come together for the greater good to recognize diversity,” says Stinton, who first joined the conference’s executive committee as a mentor in 2017, and was impressed to see how conference organizers and attendees alike embrace the event’s vision.

25 years of empowering students

The Cherry Creek Diversity Conference started in 1994 after a local teacher noticed social turmoil among her students, according to Caleb Munro, YCD’s executive director. The teacher organized the conference as a way for students to discuss the many issues affecting their daily lives, including race, gender and sexual orientation, but also socioeconomic status, disability, art, music, culture, religion, learning style, and “pretty much everything under the sun that defines us as humans,” Munro says.

Students from 18 schools participated in the inaugural conference, and it quickly grew from there. For the last 20 years the conference has reached capacity with 90 schools from around the state attending the event.

The 2018 conference, which was supported by a $10,000 contribution from RBC Wealth Management, included students from more than 102 public and private schools across Colorado, the largest number in the event’s history.

students and leaders of the cherry creek diversity conference executive committee

Anya Stinton, far left, with the students and other leaders of the Cherry Creek Diversity Conference executive committee.

The conference includes a diversity fair attended by colleges, the military, nonprofit partners and more; a keynote speaker with an inspiring message, this year delivered by civil rights leader Dolores Huerta; student-led discussion groups; and a variety of workshops (more than 40 in 2018) focusing on different topics led by fellow students or nonprofit and community leaders.

Students choose which workshops they want to attend, and organizers ensure that no two students from the same school participate in the same workshop (“It creates a powerful atmosphere where they can be free to say whatever they want about what’s going on in their school without worrying about people gossiping about it,” Munro says). Later, students meet back up with their classmates to share their experience and brainstorm a group project before closing out the conference.

“All of this is geared toward providing students with what they need to make a difference in their school or community,” Munro says.

More than that, Stinton hopes conference attendees realize that no matter what they’re going through in life, they’re not alone.

“I want the students to know that they have support,” she says. “Regardless of where they come from or what they identify as, I hope they realize there are many kids out there facing the same issues they are.”

student participants at the cherry creek diversity conference

Student participants at this year’s Cherry Creek Diversity Conference.

Photos courtesy of Youth Celebrate Diversity

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