The National Youth Summit

Photographs of past National Youth Summits with program logo

The National Youth Summit brings middle and high school students together with scholars, teachers, policy experts, and activists in a national conversation about important events in America’s past that have relevance to the nation’s present and future.

Current Program

National Youth Summit on Democracy
November 2022–April 2023

How do the stories we tell about our past shape our democracy? This year's summit looks different! Throughout the 2022–2023 school year, a new case study accompanied by a program will be released every other month. The series will culminate in a teach-in event in April 2023. Each case study uses museum objects and artifacts, addresses a supporting question, and includes teacher- and student-facing materials. Each release will be accompanied by a webinar that introduces the case study, will air live for active participation, and will be recorded for asynchronous use.

Past Programs

National Youth Summit on Gender Equity
September 21–October 12, 2021

What will the future of gender equity look like? The 2021 summit examined issues of gender, bias, and equity. Four case studies were designed to prompt students to think about gender–how it is constructed and how it has impacted communities and individuals in different times and places throughout U.S. history. History was the guide as students unpacked the central questions and envisioned their own answers to what the future of gender equity will look like.

National Youth Summit on Teen Resistance to Systemic Racism
September 22, 2020

How can young Americans create a more equitable nation? A live panel discussion was held, connecting stories of teenagers in the past fighting to address systemic injustice to those of the present. This 2020 youth summit was centered on the case study of Claudette Colvin—a 15-year-old Black student in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. Colvin refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus and testified in the legal case that brought an end to segregated busing in Montgomery.

National Youth Summit on Woman Suffrage: The Ballot and Beyond
May 21, 2019

Suffrage and the passage of the 19th Amendment marked an important moment in the progression of women’s participation in our democracy and civic life. Yet it was an imperfect victory, and one that stands neither as a beginning nor an end, but as an important milestone in the fight for equality, justice and representation. The 2019 National Youth Summit looked at woman suffrage as an example of how groups with limited political power have and continue to shape our democracy using strategies and tools, like the vote and public protest, to give voice to issues and galvanize fellow Americans into communal movements for change.

National Youth Summit on Japanese American Incarceration in World War II
May 17, 2016

During World War II, the United States government forcibly removed over 120,000 Japanese Americans from the Pacific Coast. These individuals, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens, were sent to ten camps built throughout the western interior of the United States. Many would spend the next three years living under armed guard, behind barbed wire. In this webcast, we explore this period in American history and consider how fear and prejudice can upset the delicate balance between the rights of citizens and the power of the state. This program was developed in partnership with the Japanese American National Museum, which hosted the webcast.

National Youth Summit on War on Poverty
April 28, 2015

Historians and policy analysts joined students in a discussion of the history and legacy of the War on Poverty. The panelists addressed the outcomes of the War on Poverty and whether they believe we need a new War on Poverty, and answered student questions from the online chat. 

National Youth Summit on Freedom Summer
February 5, 2014

Civil rights activists, historians, and students participated in a panel discussion about Freedom Summer, the 1964 youth-led effort to end the political disenfranchisement and educational inequality of African Americans in the Deep South, and discuss the role of young people in shaping America’s past and future. The webcast was hosted from the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson, Mississippi.

National Youth Summit on Abolition
February 11, 2013

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History hosted a National Youth Summit on Abolition. Experts, scholars, and activists joined together with high school students from around the country and the world in a moderated panel discussion to reflect upon the abolition movement of the 19th century and explore its legacy on modern-day slavery and human trafficking. The program featured excerpts from the upcoming AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary The Abolitionists, which weaves together the stories of five of the abolition movement’s leading figures: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimke, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Brown.

National Youth Summit on the Dust Bowl
October 17, 2012

In the 1930s drought and intensive farming in the Great Plains brought about dust storms, crop failure, and human misery in one of the worst ecological disasters in America’s history. On October 17, 2012, the National Youth Summit unpacked this story and connected it with current issues of drought, agricultural sustainability, and national and global food security. The Summit included segments from award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns’s film The Dust Bowl and a panel discussion that was moderated by Huffington Post science editor Cara Santa Maria and featured as panelists: Ken Burns, Dust Bowl survivor Cal Crabill, United States Department of Agriculture ecologist Debra Peters, 5th generation farmer Roy Bardole from Rippey, Iowa, and farmer and founder of Anson Mills, Glenn Roberts.

National Youth Summit on the Freedom Rides
February 9, 2011

The first National Youth Summit took place on February 9, 2011 and commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Freedom Rides. The Summit featured Freedom Ride veterans and scholars discussing civic activism and the history of the Freedom Rides. The national dialogue included students at five Smithsonian Affiliate Museums around the country. Young people in 45 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and Canada and the U.K watched the summit from their schools and homes via live web broadcasting.