YTH: Youth, Tech, Health–Shaping Youth Interviews YTH Jamia Wilson

yth live 2014Mar. 29, 2014 Like a teen whose spirited, edgy adolescence evolved toward bold innovation, I’ve watched “grow up” as an organization over time, expanding and emerging into one of the most exciting intergenerational collaborations surrounding youth wellness and technology.

Always a favorite for inspiring fresh thinking and preventive digital health problem-solving, this public health conference just keeps getting better, attracting the best and brightest visionaries and voices. (full schedule here)

Teeming with thought leaders and youth advocates of all ages, the conference takes on the topics of our times and knows how to mix it up blending the ‘what ifs’ and ‘how do we knows’ with “say what?” levels of candor that spark non-judgmental dialogue, challenge the status quo, and inspire inclusive solutions…especially addressing vulnerable populations that haven’t had a prominent voice.



Formerly known as Sex::Tech, (part of ISIS-Inc. Internet Sexuality Information Services) the YTH conference now stretches FAR beyond sex education, reproductive rights and digital outreach and uses cutting edge research to leverage tech for prevention and possibility.

Like a youth embracing the power of their newly discovered identity, the broad-based #YTHLive name is now big enough to house the gargantuan public health conversations that need to happen to truly make change bridging gaping chasms in women’s health, equity of access, cultural conundrums and numerous stigmas and stereotypes impacting youth wellness.

From past projects like the White House/HHS award-winning mobile Circle of 6 campus safety app for prevention of teen dating violence and sexual assault (co-created with The Line Campaign and now housed at Tech 4 Good)…

…To YTH sessions with today’s games for health, wearable sensors, crisis texting, suicide prevention and emotional regulation and resilience, storytelling and “listening sessions,” open data tools, mobile mapping and location based preventive services, YTHLive covers the spectrum of what’s on youth minds as they walk through this mediated world and empower themselves with the knowledge to navigate it in their best interest.

yth trio jamiaIn a little over a week, YTH Executive Director Jamia Wilson (far right in photo) and public health media maven Deb Levine (far left) who shifts to the role of President of YTH, will kick off a whole new energy of multi-generational understanding for the educators, parents, teens, and health pros attending.

In the middle? YTH Board Member and “Harassment Avenger” Emily May, co-founder of iHollaback  to end street harassment (now in 71 cities and 24 countries) speaking at the closing plenary as part of the #FemFuture panel closing YTH. (Jamia Wilson continues to serve on the iHollaback advisory board)

The media magic folds into the opener with Jacqueline Emerson of She’s So Boss,  (known to Hunger Games’ fans as FoxFace) moderating the first plenary with her “bring it” style of fearlessness that exemplifies this next generation of youth creators and health entrepreneurs.

YTH Public Health Panels, Plenaries, Look Amazing!


jack andraka sxswedu“Youth aren’t a problem…they’re a solution…

We’re at an epitome of creativity and knowledge; we have these wild ideas and we have enough knowledge to breathe life into them.” –Jack Andraka

These words from TEDster teen scientist and global student of life Jack Andraka on the Time Equals Lives site epitomize the hope and promise of the entire YTH innovation and tech conference.

Perhaps most than any other aspect of YTH, I’m always inspired by the invisible boundaries between age, gender, sexuality, race, and socioeconomics that are fully erased in pursuit of purpose and passion to make a difference in the world.

Often at youth focused conferences there are tons of adults talking ABOUT youth…

Or, conversely, they’re teeming WITH youth and age becomes the velvet rope for dismissive participation if you’re ‘older than’…(insert age benchmark age of choice)

Thankfully, at YTH all ages mix it up with tats and gauges, suits and styles crossing age and gender lines and tossing stereotypes out the side door…

Every time I show up with an open mind to listen and learn, it gets filled with collaborative energy I can take away and use elsewhere in ‘applied science’ form. The candor, respect, accuracy and intergenerational “consider this” type of mindful listening reminds me of that nervous energy in a teenage ‘Truth or Dare’ game where the questions and dialogue can go off the rails and end up building an intimacy that lingers long after the event comes to a close.

A peek at the opening plenary panel:

Jack Andraka, Intel Science winner and Smithsonian American Ingenuity Youth Award for developing an early detection system for pancreatic cancer
Adora Svitak, TED2010 speaker: What Adults Can Learn from Kids, TEDxOrganizer
Niharika Bedekar, Founder of a group which educates girls on puberty
Anthony Sis, Founder, Queer People of Color student group
Devin Lytle, Co-Founder, REAL TALK, actress, editor and pole-dance instructor
Erik Martin, Game Designer, founder of SuperPAC for better education policies

Yep, a little something for everyone.

yth crisis text lineEach year at YTHLive I’ve gleaned amazing insights from young people who seem to treat YTHLive as a safe zone to get real, share stories, and drop guarded first impressions and ‘personal branding’ (like those gawd-awful glad-handing networkers that zero in on your name tag mid-greeting to see if you’re worth talking to as their eyes fixate beyond you to the digerati rockstar in their scope of vision).

When people get raw and real about ‘at risk’ aspects of growing up in a mediated culture (from bullying/upstanding to LGBTQ human rights, access to health care, and mental health support) change starts to happen, informing all stakeholders and sectors.

Last year, I was spellbound by the REAL “teen mom” breakout session that gave me a firsthand bracer, since I’d just attended the media TV show portrayal version on the plenary in the next room over. The polarity of juxtaposition begged the question I had to ask…

“What would you say to those TV producers in the other room depicting your world as a teen mom? Who’s coming closest to your experience and who’s fouling up the works further, doing you a disservice?”

It was an emotional, goosebumps moment of empathy and tears welling up throughout the audience (in fact, I just caught a glimpse of my spellbound face in the YTH photo candids on Flickr and it spoke volumes; I clearly wear my heart on my sleeve) These are the ‘teaching moments’ that storytelling and listening agents need to hear and heed, before even attempting to design digital health solutions.

Without understanding the full scope of the issues young people are facing, and keeping up with the many morphs and nuances of health issues and social media, it’s akin to that famous Bill Cosby quote, “Raising teenagers is like nailing jello to the wall.”

yth-kabukiThis year, YTHLive will be held at Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco’s Japantown April 6-8, 2014.

But the innovation opportunity for youth starts even before then, with YTH partnering for a PRE-event “hackathon for health” in the East Bay April 5-6, encouraging the coding, ideation, and STEM skills to increase diversity in tech via partnership with renowned Level the Playing Field Institute.

jamia top ten feminists cnnFor more on what’s new this year, we’re talking to new YTH Executive Director Jamia Wilson, who overlaps heavily in my areas of interest, as she’s a founding leadership committee member of the SPARK Movement (full disclosure, I was involved with the initial SPARK convening session to ignite change in sexualization and media, and flew to NY to participate as a seeding stakeholder in the community, so this is a passionista with purpose near and dear to my heart!)

Jamia Wilson has already established herself as a leader in social change and was just cited as a CNN ‘young feminist’ in their feature on millennial movers and shakers, along with Shelby Knox, who will also be speaking at the YTH closing plenary panel.

So excited to see how Jamia integrates the stellar scholarly precedents and projects of Deb Levine’s YTH work with her own enthusiasm for closing the gaping chasms in women’s health, diversity, research and access…Dynamic duo! Here we go:

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth in Conversation With Jamia Wilson, YTH


Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: It seems like the YTHLive conference keeps expanding to new areas of dialogue that resonate with youth every year; what’s the most exciting update to THIS year’s conversations? What new topics and categories are you adding that are new and noteworthy?

jamia wilson yth.orgJamia Wilson, YTH: YTH is powering up by embracing participatory health tech, where youth are not limited to being perceived as a market for new health tech tools, but are instead welcomed as creators of their own health future.

We’re starting our conference with a power-packed panel discussion about youth-driven innovation ending with a dynamic conversation about the future of online feminism featuring bloggers, thought leaders, and organizers from Feministing, #femfuture, Echoing Ida, PPFA, Hollaback!, and

Engaging with the brightest minds in youth health tech inspired me to deepen my connection with YTH when I attended the SexTech conference as a speaker a few years ago. I’m grateful to be a part of YTH and YTHLive’s next chapter as our organization enters our teen years. We’re focusing our energy on innovation, collaboration, and working with youth to create healthy solutions that meet them where they are, on their terms.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth:  As the new Exec Dir, it’s obvious your “fem forward” focus on gender and women’s health rights is taking a strong spotlight, is this your personal passion guiding the direction or an emerging touchpoint and participant-driven request?

Where do you see YTHLive headed under your steerage and what has been your biggest challenge and success so far? What inspired you enough to snag the opportunity and haul across country from NY to SF?

Jamia Wilson, YTH: Femforward! I love it! I’ve always been a fan of YTH’s work and solutions-driven approach to gender equality and reproductive health.

When I was a teen I found sex-education and health information via Planned Parenthood’s Teenwire website and Go Ask Alice, an online health Q and A service our founder Deb Levine designed. Deb’s trailblazing feminist approach to creating tech solutions for youth health and wellness inspired me then and now. I’m proud to be continuing the legacy as we move forward on our new adventure.

In addition to moderating our closing plenary panel on the future of online feminism, I’m looking forward to co-facilitating listening sessions with the Office of Women’s Health alongside Youth Advisory Board members. I’m inspired by all of the possibilities and can’t wait to hear from our community about what health tech solutions will improve their lives.

I joined the team because of my passion for working within intergenerational, and inclusive teams. I love working with and learning from youth whose imaginations and energy imbue me with vitality! I also couldn’t resist an opportunity that resides at the intersection of my strengths and passions for social justice, technology, social media, collaboration, and capacity building. I’m invested in YTH’s mission to advance youth, health, and wellness through technology in ways that make a real, authentic, and lasting impact in young people’s lives.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth:  Talk to me about the importance of diversity in both health and innovation…What needs changed and how can youth help us get there? I heard a lot about this via “trailblazers” at the first ever StartUp Weekend Oakland…what’s your take in the health sphere?

Jamia Wilson, YTH: Significant disparities persist in the tech workforce contributing to an “opportunity divide,” particularly in mHealth (see YTH Google mHealth hangout) and health tech innovation work. Billions of dollars are being poured into health tech this year; however, low-income youth of color are not being trained and prepared to enter the health tech workforce.

We’re working with our partners at REACH Ashland Youth Center and the Level Playing Field Institute to create a diverse pipeline for the next generation of innovators.

We believe that if more people of color and women (who are currently vastly underrepresented in the highly lucrative health technology workforce) are equipped with the tools, mentoring, capacity, and resources they need to make an impact, they will emerge as leading social entrepreneurs who will create smarter, sustainable and inclusive medical, public health and design solutions. Check out our website to learn how to register for the hackathon April 5-6 before the event (for youth in Alameda County) or to volunteer if you’re an adult…

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: With all the talk about bullying and suicide prevention/intervention and new entries like the Crisis Text Line for teens, how much of the innovation and outreach at the conference is focusing on mental health at YTHLive vs physical health?

Jamia Wilson, YTH: We’ll be talking about a variety of aspects of adolescent health and wellness throughout the conference. A few sessions will be covering mental health among other topics, and Nancy Lublin from will be presenting on the main stage about, “Texting that can Save Lives.” We also have a presentation from Fred Dillon and the team at HopeLab about emotion mapping and tech for youth resilience.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Will you be covering other topics like youth nutrition, childhood obesity and the impact of media and body image on adolescent health?

Jamia Wilson, YTH: From our plenary conversations to our sponsors at Kaiser Permanente and Wellet: A Wellness Program for Universities, we’ll be covering a variety of topics related to youth health and wellness, including body image, mental health, and even chronic diseases.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth:  I noticed you’re covering wearable sensors and health tech, which held rapt attention at SXSW too. Are youth embracing the “quantified self” movement w/Health2.0 accelerometers, apps, and social media ‘peer competition’ platforms, and if so, at what age/stage? Are there barriers to entry? (affordability? privacy concerns? Big gov/big data job focus?) Is embracing digital health considered a ‘given’ with young patients looking at the future?

Jamia Wilson, YTH: We’re focused on creating data-driven solutions. Young people prefer when information is shown, rather than stated. We’ve found that data visualizations help young people understand how they fit into the big picture. We know that safe, connected, networked, multi-platform approaches work best. No matter what, we need to stay agile, learn what works quickly, keep what is effective, and move on from what isn’t. You only get one chance with youth so it’s important to make it count.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Did you purposely pick TED talk/SXSW youth rockstars like Jack Andraka and Adora Svitak to seed a larger scope and vision beyond adolescent wellness into public health innovation? (e.g. Andraka’s pancreatic cancer test speaks to limitless imagination with open-ended possibilities)

Jamia Wilson, YTH: Jack, Adora, and the other youth innovators speaking during our opening plenary panel are prime examples of the importance of working with youth to develop solutions that work for them and their communities. Their curiosity, wisdom, fearlessness, bold imaginations, resilience and endurance are the traits leaders of any age require to make sustainable health tech now and in the future.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Thanks Jamia, looking forward to hearing the innovation and ideation this round…Youth, parents, educators, health workers, advocates, researchers and entrepreneurs, come stake your claim building better health care models for the future…See you there!


Register for YTHLive 2014 now. You won’t want to miss it!


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Related Reading by Amy Jussel on Shaping Youth

Love is Respect: Teen Texting Tools to Get Dialed In To Dating Abuse

Youth AIDS Day: First Gen Who’ve Never Known a World Without HIV

Glee: Teen Sex: CDC vs Hollywood TV, Facts + Opportunities

The Bro Code: Media, Masculinity & Misogynistic Misfires

Public Health and the Grammys: Rihanna/Chris Brown DV Messaging

Media Messaging, Binge Drinking and Teens

Teen Health Dialogues Coming of Age in  Sex Saturated Times

Black Teens, Red Pump Project, Sex::Tech Summit 2011

Sex::Tech Summit: Not Your Mother’s Media

Sex:: Tech 2010: Teens & Public Health Converge (Part 1 of 3)

Sex::Tech 2010: Say What?!? Teens FAQs on Sex; (Pt 2 of 3)

Sex::Tech 2010: Sexy Broccoli & 6 Year Olds; (Pt 3 of 3)

Sex::Tech Top 10 Teen Sex Ed/Safety Videos (By Kids, For Kids)

Kids Prime Time TV Health Cues Ingested (For Better or For Worse)

Influencers, Accountability & the Global Cost to Youth

Text Monster: Teen Tips On Digital Dating Obsessions

So Sexy So Soon: Interview Chat with Co-Author Jean Kilbourne

Depravity Gone Viral: A Thin Line For Humanity

Man Down? Girl Up, Rihanna. Own Your Influence.

What Does A 13-Year Old Boy Know About Dating Violence? Plenty.

Backdraft: DV=Differing Views on Dating/Domestic Violence

I’m Not a Prude, But…

So Sexy So Soon: Interview Chat with Co-Author Jean Kilbourne

Victim Blaming, “Asking For It” And Baiting Outrage on the Radio


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