Watch Now: EBONY’s Teen Legislative Summit Highlights Young Voices Who Are Doing the Work

From left: EBONY's Teen Legislative Summit Panelists— Taylor Ghee, Johna Speller and Carolyn Reid. Image: courtesy of the subjects

Younger generations carry the promise of hope for a brighter future while raising their voices to take actionable steps to ensure that we get there.

In partnership with the NAACP and Jack and Jill of America, EBONY hosted a Teen Legislative Summit, a space for young leaders to share dialogue about issues they find deeply important. The Teen Summit was moderated by Tiffany Dena Loftin, Senior Advisor to the Grassroots Law Project. She led panelists Taylor Ghee, a NJ native and Teen President of Jack and Jill Bergen-Passaic Chapter, Johna Speller, President of NC NAACP Youth and College Division and Carolyn Reid, Stafford, Virginia Youth Council President through a engaging discussion about sparking change within their respective communities while learning from other young people with similar mindsets.

Following a passionate introduction from Loftin, the event began with a motivational spoken word called “Hear You” recited by Jack and Jill Bergen-Passaic Chapter member Vaughn Foster, who set a tone of vision for the event. “I’m able to understand the power of the next generation. They are going to be the ones that take the reins and I am apart of that generation. They are going to be the ones that control what’s happening in the future,” said Foster when asked about his poetry selection.

The panel honed in on the ways in which young people are stepping into effective leadership roles nationwide and how to charge other like-minded individuals to get involved in a similar fashion. With insightful clarity and ardor, the panelists shared their experiences with community leadership, activism and their hopes for a better tomorrow.

As mid-term elections are fast approaching, the young panelists shed light on the importance of being active in the community and how their respective organizations champion these efforts. Additionally, as the work they do can be challenging, they identified sources of inspiration, primarily family members, who propel them to be their best consistently while being an example for them to follow. The values that they noted as being most important to them are derived by their connection to their loved ones which will undoubtedly stick with them for life.

When asked about issues close to their hearts, the panelists d the significant value of schools being an important environment for students of color to be seen, heard and valued while being supported by those with authority when it comes to instilling these practices. “I feel as though authority does not always go about handling situations the right way, especially regarding students of color, which is a part of a larger conversation that needs to be had,” said Ghee, who also shared a life-changing moment about a situation at school which prompted her to become socially active.

Young people’s voices have always been integral to movements of social change, especially within American society. Over the past two years, there has been a remarkable uptick in youth involvement which is correlated to the gross injustices witnessed through the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Loftin queried the young panelists on the nature of proactive activism today and how they can maintain the energy surrounding these issues after protesting and speaking out. “I think one thing I saw during 2020 was that young people were and continue to use social media…I love seeing that type of unity and camaraderie on influential platforms. But having the experiences that I have, knowing that young people have so much more than just posting, I think one of my fears was what was going to happen when these ‘trends’ fade away. What are young people going to do then?” said Speller.

Not only do the young women on the panel have significant knowledge to impart on their generation, they are also simultaneously doing the work to ensure that their hopes for the future come into fruition. Carolyn Reid shared her experience advocating for the renaming of a highway that was proposed to honor the legacy of a dishonorable historical figure. “I think that representation really matters within the community and messaging really matters. Some people may say the names of things aren’t important but they are because they reflect the values of the community,” explained Reid.

As long as there are young people who are deeply invested in change at all levels, then there is hope that one day we will be able to achieve an equitable society for us all.

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