On January 23, 2014, Generation Citizen co-hosted an event at the Ford Foundation called “Educating for Democracy: The Role of Young People in Re-Invigorating our Democracy.” During this event, as part of the “Scaling Civic Learning” panel, GC alum and Community Change Fellow Miajia Jaware spoke as a youth participant. We could not be more proud of Miajia, and below you can find her speech – which was followed by a standing ovation by fellow convening attendees!
“My name is Miajia. I am 16 years old, and a junior at A. Phillip Randolph High School.
Being as young as I am, I’ve been told that I don’t really have a place in politics, that my voice is insignificant, that no one would ever listen. Oh the lies they’ve told me. Truth be told, my voice matters, it matters a lot, and because of Generation Citizen I’ve had the opportunity to not only voice my opinion, but to have it heard. I won’t lie, at first I was timid. After being told for so long that nothing I said mattered, suddenly I was put into this room full of adults just like Ayisha who wanted to hear what I had say. They wanted to know my point of view and they gave me all these different scenarios and said “Well. Miaija what would you do? How would you handle it?”. They gave me this newfound power, and they could not wait for me to use it.
Last summer I did not spend it out on the beach, or at the pool, or at amusement parks. I’ll admit that that would have been nice, but instead I was here, with Ayisha and Pamela and about 11 other people my age being a part of something so unheard of , that it could not be replaced by a million summer vacations spent lounging in the sun. I was here, but I was also at the Urban Youth Collaborative discussing the school-to-prison pipeline, and unjust and biased disciplinary codes in NYC schools. I was out in the streets blocking traffic, and making headlines shouting to the skies in hopes that Mike Brown would get the justice he deserved. I was at the Truthworker Theatre Company watching ordinary kids just like me stand on stages and transform their surroundings into jail cells, and watching them re-enact the brutalities that happen in prison cells to so many of our youth. I was shaking hands with Councilman Ritchie Torres. I was all over New York City learning so much, and being a part of so much, that when the summer finally ended, I was suddenly wishing it was July again, and it was my first day of being a Community Change Fellow. Last summer was not only an amazing experience that EVERY 16 year old should have, it was also something that has shaped who I am right now. Nine months ago, if you were to ask me anything about disciplinary codes, or how I feel about youth involvement in their community, I could not have given you an answer. But now, I could write you a five page paper on why its so important. I could go on an on and tell you about how empowering it is to know that your ideas are being used to solve an issue as big as the school to prison pipeline. I could tell you all of it, but I’d much rather you experience it for yourself.
Generation Citizen is something that needs to be in every high school across the country. We need for everyone to understand how important this is. Not only because we are the going to inherit this government, but also because we ARE the next generation. If you go into any high school, I can guarantee that you will find a group of kids who envision themselves as the president, or secretary of state, or some other political figure. We know what we want to do, we just don’t know where to go. Not every student is as lucky as I was to be able to have GC come to my classroom and make me question what I once thought was normal. Not every student got the opportunity to tour city hall. Not every student gets to do this, but they should. With as many ideas that we have , and all the solutions that my peers and I proposed this summer, I can’t imagine what it’d be like if the entire nation’s high schoolers were this enthusiastic about wanting change. So next time someone of my age comes to you and says “Hey, I have an idea”, don’t shoo them away, look them in the eyes and let them know that you want to listen. Encourage what they have to say, and ask them to elaborate, play devils advocate and make them see things from different angles, make them question themselves. I ask you this because, if it were not for Ayisha and Yuan doing the same thing to me, I would not have the courage to be the Community Change Fellow that I am today. I would not be here today.
I thank them for being the ones to make me realize that ; young or old, black or white, regardless who you are, or where you come from, your voice matters, you matter, and what you can do to change your community matters.
Generation Citizen is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 tax exempt organization which does not endorse candidates; our goal is to engage our staff, participants, and stakeholders in political and civic action on issues that matter to them personally and in their communities. The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the writer alone and do not reflect the opinions of Generation Citizen.