“Keep the fight going, be involved, hold adults, leaders, and the justice system accountable for their actions.”
As part of the Voices in Youth Rights series, this interview features Jarvus Turnley, a NYRA volunteer from Springfield, Tennessee. In addition to volunteering with NYRA, Jarvus works on the Robertson County Tennessee foster care review board, coaches youth sports, and provides tutoring and counseling for young people in the juvenile justice system. In 2020, he ran for Tennessee State Legislature to represent District 66.
What brought you to the youth rights movement?
I’ve always had a passion for helping and being a voice for our youth, whether it was church ministry, community issues, education or helping families with youth in the criminal justice system. I heard of the NYRA through friends because I wanted to connect with other like-minded people who believe in working with and for youth across America. I contacted them and ever since we have connected on issues facing our future generations.
As someone who started preaching at a young age, has that influenced how you think about the opportunities young people should be given?
I started preaching at 16 years old at Beards Chapel Baptist Church, and my spiritual life, in a lot of ways, helps me talk, mentor, and deal with each kid. Each kid’s situation, their home life, is different, so my spiritual life helps play a big role in opportunities we must offer them because I believe in the future of every kid.
Is there a youth rights issue you are particularly interested in?
The juvenile justice system and the funding of our educational system. I got interested in those issues by seeing those things happen to citizens and started caring about the needs of those who was face in those situations. I deal with kids in justice system, adults, and I felt that we must use our voice to stand for something. I tell our youth all the time to take a stand, unite in unity working to solve issues, fight corruption within our school system, justice system, and our local, state and federal government. We need our youth at the board of education, standing and working with school board members on fixing education for all. We need youth to stand against corruption and greed from elected leaders and lawmakers. They say the youth is our future, so we must join hands and work hand in hand with our youth, spending all we have to give our youth a great education, provide tutors, counselors, and resources towards the lives and future of every youth across the country.
What advice would you give to young people who are dealing with ageism or who are struggling to advocate for youth rights issues?
I say to our youth: unite, take a stand, your voice, your life matter. You are all the key to change, the key to growth and success. Remember you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength to endure, handle issues, or keep pushing. They want y’all quiet, they want y’all not taking a stand for rights and issues you believe in but I say to our youth, your voice matters. Keep the fight going, be involved, hold adults, leaders, and the justice system accountable for their actions. The future of us all depends on our youth being involved, taking a stand and working alongside school boards, the juvenile justice system, political leaders to assure we give every kid the best education and resources and tools they need to be the future leaders we all want them to be.
What do you hope to see change for young people in your community in the future?
I want each kid to receive the best education we can give them. I want to see all youth involved in trade school or learning different trades. I hope to see less youth in our justice system but working with groups to keep other youth from being trapped in the system. We should work towards setting the voting age at 16 years old, and we as parents, teachers, judges, employers, and politicians must unite in unity with our youth on issues, laws, jobs and education because our youth voices matter. It will take worth, dedication, and unity from our youth to our elders so we can solve issues we all face and provide a path to a brighter future for us all, especially for our youth and future generations to come.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
If you’d like to learn more about NYRA’s youth rights campaigns and current issues, including work related to education and criminal justice systems, click here or visit the NYRA Issues section. You can also learn more about how to get involved, including volunteering, forming a node, or training in activism.