About Real Talk

Real Talk meets twice a month for a total of 18 teen-led conversations through the school year. The conversations take place via engaging activities that involved movement, creativity, sharing, competition, and fun. The series begins with a set of foundational discussions about trust, family, friends, community, relationships, identity, personality, and gratitude. Then teens choose the topics they want to discuss in the spring and develop their own activities for the events.

Interested in starting your own Real Talk group? Read the resources below!

Real Talk Handbook

Real Talk Handbook

Learn about the history and goals of Real Talk, get an overview of the events, and get tips for running your own Real Talk group.

Read the Handbook


We are indebted to a great many organizations for supporting and informing Real Talk. Here are a few that have had a particularly noteworthy influence on our work.

Library Initiative for Teens & Tweens

Real Talk is made possible by the generous support of LITT—the Library Initiative for Teens & Tweens—an independent project to support innovative library programs and spaces for teens and tweens in underserved and diverse Massachusetts’ communities. LITT partners with teen services librarians to help them implement new and existing programs; create vibrant, affirming teen library spaces; and acquire the materials, food, stipends, transportation, and other services they need to engage their teen constituents and broaden their reach in the community. LITT is distributed by the Rhyme and Reason Fund, a donor-advised fund at The Boston Foundation.

Theaster Gates & the Rebuild Foundation

In early 2016, Theaster Gates was a visiting artist-in-residence at Brandeis University's Rose Art Museum. A fortuitious conversation with him at a reception helped plant the seeds of what would eventually become Real Talk. His work in the creative arts and community building, especially through his Rebuild Foundation, have been a perennial source of inspiration not only for our work with youth, but for reimagining what libraries could and should be to the communities we serve.

The Center for Teen Empowerment & Moving Beyond Icebreakers

The Center for Teen Empowerment (CTE) is a Boston-based organization that seeks “to involve low-income, urban youth in helping to solve the most pressing issues in their communities using the unique, interactive Teen Empowerment Model.” In the early days of Real Talk, thanks to the Waltham Partnership for Youth, many of our teens attended workshops with CTE educators training teens in this model with the purpose of building skills for conducting community conversations. This model is largely based on work documented by CTE founder Stanley Pollack in the book Moving Beyond Icebreakers. We have borrowed some of their terminology and activities for our framework, and Real Talk teen leaders receive their own copy of this book to aid them in thinking about designing their activities and event agendas.

Democratic Knowledge Project & Young Changemakers in 21st Century Libraries

We first met Dr. Danielle Allen—the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, and author of Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A.—at the Massachusetts Library System’s Teen Summit in 2017. She and her Democratic Knowledge Project team have been studying the way that “the digital age is introducing technological changes that are impacting how youth develop into informed, engaged, and effective actors.” Specifically, their "10 Questions for Young Changemakers," which is the product of their work with the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP), helps guide teens through “best practices around youth engagement in participatory politics.” Dr. Chaebong Nam, a member of the research team, visited a Real Talk event on Immigration in 2018. And thanks to the Massachusetts Library System, Waltham Public Library was selected to participate in their "Young Changemakers in 21st Century Libraries" grant, a cohort of public and school libraries working on incorporating the 10 Questions into library-based projects. This Real Talk framework is one of those projects.