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Voice of youth

How local teens can shake up the world

Just because you can’t vote doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice: That’s the advice from Colorado teens who are making waves through civic engagement by forming organizations, reaching out to their elected officials and even hosting their own fairs. For these teens, taking an active role in the community doesn’t have to start when you turn 18. We invited them to share their experiences and advice for other teens looking to make a difference.

Ian Gaskins, age 17

Organization currently involved with: Never Again Colorado

What prompted you to become civically engaged for the first time? I grew up in a political household. I first got actively involved when I went to a ward meeting in Thornton – from there it grew rapidly. I worked on two ballot initiatives for months, and after that experience, I went into the legislative branch and got an internship at the Colorado State Capitol.

What advice do you have for teens who want to become more civically engaged but don’t know where to start? Everything starts small and grows from there. For me and my activism with gun reform, it started with a simple organizers’ meeting for March for our Lives. Those who were really dedicated then decided to form the Never Again Colorado Board. Show up to the capitol and testify for bills you think are important. Write letters to your members of Congress. Just because you can’t vote doesn’t mean that your voice is non-existent, and when you’re old enough to vote, vote!

Phillip Alvarez, age 17

Organizations currently involved with: Honor Society of the Boy Scouts of America of Denver Metro (president); Horizon High School’s DECA Chapter (president); and team leader for Bridge, part of the Big Idea Project Scholarship competition which creates ways for students to have an impact on their communities. As part of Bridge, Alvarez hosted a Community Engagement Fair for teens in March 2018 at the Adams County Fairgrounds.

What prompted you to become civically engaged for the first time? My first experience being civically engaged happened when I was very young, assisting my dad with his campaign. I went to parades, handed out fliers, and talked to many different politicians. My dad always said that the key part to getting active in the community was getting to know people, because you can support those who you know and in turn they can support you.

What advice do you have for those who want to become more civically engaged but don’t know where to start? First, get informed. This doesn’t have to be through hours of research every day, nor does it mean that you have to have a full understanding of complicated international issues. However, it means doing things like listening to the news, knowing who your mayor is, understanding political parties and paying attention to national and local elections. Then, once you are well-informed, voice your opinion. This can be done by attending caucuses, going to campaign events, and supporting candidates for office that you agree with. The nice thing about doing these things is that none of them have an age restriction. So, get out there and see how you can make a difference because your willingness to help will surely be well received by many.

Tay Anderson, age 19

Organization currently involved with: Never Again Colorado

What prompted you to become civically engaged for the first time? In 2015, on my birthday, Alton Sterling was killed, and it sparked protests for Black Lives Matter. I rushed to downtown Denver and made sure that I could be a part of this protest. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be involved, and I want to be a part of the change in this country around inequities in communities of color.

What advice do you have for those who want to become more civically engaged but don’t know where to start? Don’t be afraid to stand up. Many adults want you to be silent, but you must refuse to accept the status quo. Put others first. Don’t make your activism about you – make it about the people. Find out at what age you can register to vote – in some states like Colorado – it’s 16. If we can get young people to register in unprecedented numbers, we can start to get ready to shake up the world. ■

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