Fifteen New Haven residents on Thursday discussed the value of self-love and its applicability to activism.

Citywide Youth Coalition, a network of young New Haven activists and youth-serving staff, hosted a self-love workshop Thursday at the New Haven Free Public Library as one of their bimonthly “dinner and dialogue” community events. The workshop provided a space for middle and high school students to talk about how it feels to experience the current political environment as a young adult.

“Activism is a big thing lately, and we want to remind people to take care of themselves. I myself as an activist sometimes forget to take care of myself first,” said Jeremy Cajigas, a senior at Riverside Education Academy and the Youth Advisory Board representative who hosted the event. “We get so wrapped up in the work that we do. We’re so consciously woke that in everything we do we notice the little stereotypes, the racism behind it, the mini-aggressions, so we also need to take a break from that. And just be able to breath.”

Attendees sat in a circle and introduced themselves with their names, preferred pronouns and one thing they had done that day to take care of themselves. People shared pizza and their ideas on why is it radical to love oneself. One conclusion was that the world teaches individuals that it is selfish to practice self-love and that, as a result, people end up caught in draining routines of saying yes to everything everyone demands from them.

In addition to participating in the Citywide Youth Coalition, Cajigas is a member of Fighters for Justice, an activist group that focuses on racial inequality, police brutality and sanctuary cities, among other social justice problems.

Cajigas shared seven tips on self-love he had researched prior to the event. After every tip, the young adults would discuss each tip and how it related to their personal experiences with their families and in school. Tips included taking breaks, learning what drains one’s energy, finding communities in which one feels safe and seeking professional help when one feels overwhelmed.

Katie Jones, a New Haven resident who has worked with youth for more than 10 years, attended the event to support and learn from participants.

“To have Citywide Coalition meetings where youth voices are heard and where there’s a skill sharing discussion is essential for anyone at any age, but especially for youth because there’s not a lot of support built in our institutions,” she said after the event ended. “Radical self-love is imperative for everybody in this day, when there’s so much stress and violence and trauma everywhere. I think this is the seed of how we are going to make a change — by getting different skills and practices and doing it in community.”

After the workshop, most of the teens picked up their school bags and headed home to continue their homework. As they left, they discussed how citywide events provide them with a space to talk about what they feel.

One New Haven student said she often is afraid to speak up in school for fear of others judging her or saying something “disrespectful” under their breath. At events hosted by Citywide Youth Coalition she can speak her mind, she said.

The Citywide Youth Coalition is partnering with Yale to host a panel talk about grassroots activism titled “Re-Building the Built Environment” on Nov. 11 at the Yale Forestry School.

Berenice Valencia |