Spreading Hope & Inspiration

by Bridget Baker

Get inspired by Sherry Cannon and her youth empowerment program.

It began as a way for founder Sherry Cannon to give her grandson a healthy outlet. Now celebrating its 10th year, the Hope Renewed Youth Conference has grown into a three-day event—an educational forum offering kids ages 11 to 18 an opportunity to learn leadership skills, and in the process, learn more about themselves.

“It started out because I was scared for my grandson,” Cannon explains. “As the years went on, I saw all these kids with potential, and they all became my kids.”

This year’s conference takes place June 20th through the 22nd at the RiverPlex, and Cannon is pulling out all the stops to ensure a memorable, fun-filled weekend. On Friday night and Saturday morning, local professionals will conduct workshops on a range of topics, from peer pressure and teen dating to gang violence and college preparation, as well as hands-on sessions in art, salsa dancing and bridge busting. “You have to make it fun for them,” says Cannon, “so they don’t necessarily know they’re learning.”

KLove, a spoken word artist, will be the keynote speaker on Friday, and during Saturday’s luncheon, Kamara Taylor will share her story of being inspired by a teacher. Earlier that day, the kids will participate in a town hall meeting, where an eclectic panel of leaders will share stories and answer questions. Past panelists have ranged from Peoria city leaders to hip-hop artists; this year, Cannon plans to bring back people who have experienced the conference before and were left inspired by it.

This year’s theme is TURN UP (Taking Ultimate Responsibility Now = Unlimited Possibility), and the intent is to broaden participants’ horizons so they can envision a limitless future—“something bigger than what they’ve been exposed to.”

“Our goal is to open up their vision and their hope,” Cannon explains. “I try to bring in people who have walked the same path as these kids so they can tell their story. Kids can spot a fake a mile away. They like authenticity and they like real people.”

Cannon hopes that by hearing their stories firsthand, the kids will learn that circumstance need not dictate their life’s outcome. “Education is your way out,” she declares. “You don’t get to choose your parents, you don’t get to choose where you’re raised, and you don’t get to choose your color... all that stuff just happens. What you can choose is what you’re going to do with it, what decisions you’re going to make... Your best route is through education.”

The weekend wraps up on Sunday with a concert in the ICC Performing Arts Center featuring Sean Slaughter, a gospel hip-hop artist whose inspirational story highlights the same message as the conference itself.

“We really want them to see themselves better and understand that we can’t change your circumstance, but we can give you a little light to tell you that today does not have to dictate your tomorrow,” Cannon declares. “If you can be strong and resolute enough to take each day as it comes, this bump in the road does not have to be it for you.” iBi

To learn more about the Hope Renewed Youth Conference, visit hryc.info.

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