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This past weekend NYRA held a 3-day orientation for this year’s NYRA fellows. The orientation, held in Washington, DC, covered a wide range of topics including NYRA issues and strategies for going forward. The lecture sessions were integrated with great discussions about youth rights — their individual importance as well as their impact on each other through their interaction.  There were also documentaries and movies presented which served to reinforce the urgency of the work to be done in youth rights. The orientation was attended by the fellows and presented by the current NYRA President, Alex Koroknay-Palicz. Also in attendance was Jason Spriggs, our IT volunteer, Connell Wise, a current Board Member, as well as several other NYRA members including Anne Sheridan and Tricia Koroknay-Palicz.

Day 1 consisted of discussing youth rights theory and the concept of ageism. Before tackling any concrete issues, it was important for fellows to understand the movement and how ageism occurs in every aspect of young people’s lives. The day ended with a viewing of “The War on Kids”, a documentary about the American school system. Fellows were shocked to learn how many public schools closely resemble correctional facilities, and how many schools have lost their focus on education to instead focus on control and oppression. The documentary went through various issues that prompted strong reactions from fellows who realized the injustices of such a dysfunctional institution as the typical public school system.

Day 2 was dedicated to NYRA strategy and history. Not only did fellows learn about NYRA history, but they also learned the history of other civil rights movements. Previous NYRA President, Jeffrey Nadel, Skyped in to talk about chapter management as well as NYRA successes. Jeff no doubt is an able raconteur who really drew on his experiences to facilitate fellows in their future endeavors. It was amazing to see how much one individual can impact a young person, a school, and even a city. Drawing even more inspiration, the fellows watched the movie “Amazing Grace” which shows the amount of strategy and time that went into abolishing the slave trade in Great Britain. The movie, based on true events, showed how social and legal change is possible as long as you keep at it.

Day 3 went through NYRA’s top issues including Voting Age, Driving Age, Drinking Age, and Curfews. By going through each topic, fellows were able to understand the issues more in depth and also learn what arguments and strategies work best in handling naysayers. What they learned was that there is a whole host of data and studies to back up NYRA’s positions. Day 3 was also dedicated to discussing each fellow’s work plans and tasks for their fellowships.

The fellowship is a combined summer and fall program. Each fellow has particular responsibilities and tasks involved in outreach, chapters, research, and website maintenance. We are incredibly excited to have a new wave of committed NYRA members come in to kick start the summer which will be full of activity and growth. The fellows include Jamie Delaney, Alyssa Devine, Cole Harper, and Keoni Scott-Reid.

Jamie Delaney graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in Philosophy and is currently living in the Northern Virginia area. She plans to study law in the future regarding international human rights. Previously, Jamie interned at the US Department of Labor in the International Labor Affairs Bureau working on worker’s rights. For NYRA, she will be working on blogging and other social media management tasks.

Alyssa Devine is a student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her interest in civil rights stemmed from her undergraduate studies in criminal justice. Alyssa has worked with youth in Indianapolis as a mentor in the Teen Court Program and as a tutor through Indy Learning Centers. She was introduced to NYRA through online research of civil rights groups. Her tasks will include updating NYRA’s law library by researching underage drinking and curfews at the state and local level. Read Alyssa’s reflections on youth rights & the orientation here.

Cole Harper is an incoming freshman at American University, born in San Antonio TX and raised in Fort Worth TX, he graduated from Paschal High School. Cole is currently interning at Fort Worth Sister Cities and the National Archives at Fort Worth. Cole is passionate about youth and civic education, serving as the South Central Director for the Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council, Central Expansion Director for SecondGen, and a finance intern for Youth for National Change. He discovered NYRA through a recommendation of a friend in Maryland and immediately fell in love with its mission. He will be working on chapter management as well as on the exciting DC 16toVote campaign. Click here to learn more about it!

Keoni Scott-Reid is from the DC/MD/VA area and is a junior at Largo High School. Keoni heard about NYRA through the Washington Urban Debate League, and is interested in Philosophy and Civil Law. He will be working with NYRA on lowering the voting age in DC to 16. Read Keoni’s reflections on youth rights & the orientation here.

We look forward to seeing the hard work to which these fellows will dedicate their time. This orientation was the grand kick off for their work connecting them to NYRA’s mission, philosophy, strategy, history, and preparing them for their work. The orientation proved inspiring in that it underscored how NYRA’s work is the latest chapter in a long and noble tradition of struggle for human rights. If you would like to get involved, leave a comment below!