I first got involved with NYRA in 2009, when I was in 8th grade. I had formed a small coalition with some fellow middle schoolers called the Teen Suffrage Organization (TSO) – we hoped to collect signatures for a referendum to lower the voting age in New York State. Online, we learned about NYRA and their work, and I reached out about turning our organization into a chapter; soon after, NYRA-Nanuet: TSO was born. Our chapter was active for a few years, although we had a hard time gaining support from our local representatives on the voting age issue (we were applauded for our enthusiasm, but there was very little interest in our actual policy goals). We shifted towards a focus on spreading awareness about youth rights, via interviews with local and regional news networks and in-person efforts to spread resources to students in our school and neighboring schools. Our chapter ultimately fizzled out in early 2012, when most of our founding membership had nearly graduated high school.
I was also involved with NYRA’s national leadership, serving on the board for 2 years, one year as vice president. I moved away from the organization as my priorities shifted in junior year of high school, but having worked closely with NYRA at such a formative age definitely left a lasting impact. I can’t think of too many other spaces where I could’ve approached a team of adult activists as a middle school student and be not just treated like an equal, but also encouraged to take on leadership responsibilities. I probably was not the most effective advocate or activist at the humble age of 13, but being empowered by a national organization to try to make a real change in my community and my state definitely has made me a better leader today. I gained experiences speaking to an audience on an in-person panel and with TV news reporters in the field and with my peers at school – those experiences made me braver, more confident, and a better communicator. And doing work to engage my community at such a formative time gave me a lot pride and love for my hometown, county, and state that I carry with me to this day. Learning about and participating in the labor of community activism when I was young empowered me to organize around causes that were important to me in college, and inspires me to continue seeking out opportunities to support community organizers today.
My time with NYRA has also definitely made me much more attuned to issues of youth rights. Although I am more involved in conversations and organizing efforts around racial justice and voting rights today, I often pay special attention to how youth who are seeking to be civically engaged are welcomed. I also have definitely become more passionate about lowering the drinking age than I was when I was active with NYRA: the absurdity of that policy wasn’t something I fully understood until I went to college and saw how it not only dehumanizes young adults but also can cause incredible public health problems. I think my understanding of social justice has become more nuanced since my middle school days – I was definitely a little radicalized in college – but I still consider myself to be a supporter of youth rights. And of course, lowering the voting age is a civil rights issue that will always have a special place in my heart!