WASHINGTON – The National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) announced the recipients of its second annual awards, which were formally presented on July 30 at the 2011 NYRA Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Youth rights is the concept that young people are entitled to the rights and civil liberties enjoyed by all American citizens.  Three separate awards are given by NYRA each year to the figures that have made the most significant contribution towards the advancement of youth rights.  After months of member nominations and discussion, NYRA’s Board of Directors selected one winner for each award during their final meeting of the year on July 17.

“Once again, we’re thrilled at the wide variety of youth rights activism taking place across the country,” said NYRA President Jeff Nadel.  “We believe that the achievements of this year’s winners have empowered their fellow young people.  After all, each year we see more youth stand up for themselves in their homes, schools and workplaces.  NYRA is inspired by their actions and extends our gratitude.”

The following is a list of NYRA award winners for 2011:

The Youth Rights Progress Award annually honors the person or group that has done the most to advance the rights, equality and empowerment of youth.  This year’s winner was the United Teen Equality Center of Lowell, Massachusetts.  Along with the Cambridge (Mass.) Kids Council, UTEC has created serious momentum for lowering the state and municipal voting age by successfully passing a resolution in their town and obtaining a hearing in the State House.  UTEC’s youth-run election debates are considered a necessary stop for regional politicians, many of whom are now on record supporting a lower voting age.  Nearly a dozen UTEC members made the trip down to Washington, D.C. to accept the award in person.

The other nominees were: Marc Ecko & the anti-corporal punishment group Unlimited Justice; elanschool.org, Elan tumblr, reddit.com & the anonymous online activists who shut down the notorious Elan “torture school” in Poland, Maine; and Palmer Township, Pa. residents Kayla Martinez, 12 & Brianna Hawk, 13, who won a lawsuit to successfully defend the thousands of students who have worn “I (Heart) Boobies” wristbands in public schools.

A NYRA Achievement Award is awarded annually to the person or group that has contributed the most towards the success of the National Youth Rights Association.  This year’s winner was 18-year-old Chris Hardy & NYRA-Bergen County.  As President of the Midland Park (N.J.) High School Student Government and NYRA-Bergen County, Chris established a student defense program which brought due process to his school and curbed the number of punishments given – many of which had violated his school board’s own regulations.  Chris’ superintendent retaliated against the program by censoring the school newspaper and shutting down Student Government before being forced to reverse her actions.  Despite attempts at intimidating the MPHS student body, by all accounts they support the program and Student Government voted to institute it unanimously.  Chris won election to NYRA’s Board of Directors shortly after being presented with the award.

Two other nominees, Nigel Jones and Usiel Phoenix, were re-elected to NYRA’s Board of Directors.  Nigel ended a discriminatory policy at Giant grocery stores throughout the state of Maryland.  Usiel Phoenix gave several speeches and much support to multiple NYRA campaigns.  Both were 17 years old at the time.

There was significant competition for this year’s Ageist of the Year Award, which recognizes the person or group that contributed the most towards the prevalence of negative opinions toward young people or impeded the cause of youth rights.  Although Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas won the award, he was unable to attend the Annual Meeting and will be presented with his certificate through the mail.  In Brown v. EMA, Thomas wrote a bizarre dissenting opinion which rested solely on offensive beliefs about young people, starting with the assertion that no Constitutional rights apply to minors and that they are to think and even exist solely at the whims of their parents.  Fortunately, Justice Thomas is very much alone in his claim that the First Amendment “does not include a right to speak to minors (or a right of minors to access speech),” or his favoritism of “total parental control over children’s lives extended into the schools.”  NYRA members and millions of young Americans are all – to say the least – independent persons with inalienable rights, some of whom have escaped severely broken homes.  They rightfully exercise control over their own lives, disproving Thomas’ dim and adversarial view of our capabilities and humanity.

Writing for the 7-2 majority, Justice Antonin Scalia did not look favorably on Thomas, saying that he “cites no case, state or federal, supporting this view, and to our knowledge there is none,” and calling his ideas “obviously an infringement upon the religious freedom of young people.”  Nevertheless, NYRA felt that Thomas’ long history of attacks on young Americans, also seen in 2007’s Morse v. Frederick, had to be repudiated.  Despite the fact that his opinion was published late after the initial nominees were announced, NYRA board members were horrified enough to grant him an award over other deserving candidates.

The four other ageist nominees were: Amy Chua, whose book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, advocated a strict and damaging way of raising children; N.Y. State Sen. Eric Adams, who encouraged parents to search through the rooms and possessions of their children; Bruce Ratner, whose controversial Atlantic Terminal mall in Brooklyn illegally discriminates against teenagers; and two-time nominee Laurence Steinberg, a professor at Temple University, for producing unaffordable college textbooks which distort research in psychology to marginalize young adults.

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