Youth Organizers, Next Gen Leaders of Tomorrow, Call on the Dept. of Education to Recognize Their Voice Today

By Our Turn


Tiffany Patterson

[email protected]


Our Turn, a member of the Youth In Gov Coalition, calls on Secretary Cardona to recognize the Raise Your Hand Student Agenda, a BIPOC-responsive plan to address disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

[New York, NY, March 1, 2021]  Our Turn, comprising mostly historically underrepresented and marginalized youth, has not only joined the #YouthInGov campaign, but is honing in on a BIPOC responsive-plan of action to achieve educational justice.  Our Turn is calling on Secretary Cardona to utilize the bully pulpit to amplify and validate the Raise Your Hand Student Agenda within the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris Administration.  

Our Turn's call to the Department of Education is occurring in harmony with #YouthInGov, a coalition of 50 youth-led organizations representing over three million young people calling on the Biden-Harris Administration to take executive action to represent and empower young people across the federal government.

Taylor Cruz, an Afro-Latina student attending Queens University in NC, believes that President Biden has accurately identified key drivers that create disproportionate outcomes in learning among BIPOC students versus their white counterparts.  Cruz said, “President Biden has gotten all of our attention; he has identified the key issues that continue to perpetuate inequity in our schools. Now he has to do something about it.”  Cruz, a Lead Organizer at Our Turn, who has been leading efforts to extend in-state tuition to DACA students, is now looking to Secretary Cardona to deliver on the Biden Administration’s promise to close the achievement gap.  

As President Biden focuses on reopening schools, while also progressing his plan to emphasize racial inequity as a core policy value during his first 100 days in office, BIPOC students set their gaze on Secretary Cardona, encouraging him to validate the Raise Your Hand Student Agenda as a roadmap for achieving racial equity and reversing disparate learning experiences they’ve suffered during the pandemic.

The Raise Your Hand Student Agenda is a five point plan to shift the educational system towards a more equitable and inclusive system. The agenda calls for the implementation of key principles including, positioning youth as authentic partners in the decision-making process at every level of education, establishing just curriculums that affirm the intersectional identities of all students, and prioritizing and supporting socio-emotional well-being to name a few.

James Rhee, 17, an Our Turn organizer who attends highschool in Conyers, GA said, "For far too long, we watched our schools crumble, unable to satisfy our educational needs."

Rhee is one of 50 plus student ambassadors, hailing from various states across the nation, leading the Raise Your Hand First 100 Days campaign.  Though student leaders are collectively calling for inclusion and engagement within the administration, Raise Your Hand Ambassadors are assuring historically underrepresented students are not left on the sidelines.  

Rhee said, “Student leaders all across the country need your [Sec. Cardona’s] support in helping radicalize our educational system to a system that works for all of us. From BIPOC, to LGBTQ+, to non native English speakers, to the economically disadvantaged, every student deserves and needs the right to a quality and equitable education."

The effort is a transformative strategy to not only call on more inclusive governance involving youth, but to also organize political power so that campaigns involving special interest groups, such as marginalized youth, are set up to achieve impact and scale on a local level, beyond the first 100 days of the new administration.  

In January of this year, Our Turn’s Colorado Coalition proved their ability to progress the Student Agenda, when they delivered demand number three, ‘Prioritize Our Mental Health,’ and secured 1.5 Million dollars of earmarked funds supporting a pilot program that will staff mental health counselors throughout the Denver Public School System. 

Molly O'Connor, who started out as a youth member, now an Our Turn staffer, leading efforts in Denver, said, "After two years of organizing, working through a global pandemic, and budget shortfalls in school budgets, the Denver coalition was thrilled when Denver Public Schools advanced our recommendations and provided funding for a pilot program staffing additional mental health support staff in schools. 

We hope that over the next few years, DPS will see the value in these student-identified solutions, and expand the program to place a mental health counselor in every school,” said O’Connor. 

Quoting Cardona’s statement, “It’s not lost on me, the significance of being the grandson of a tobacco farmer who came here for a better life, who despite having a second grade education was able to raise his family and create that upward mobility cycle,” Rhee reflects on his own experience as a first generation, Korean American. 

 BIPOC groups are left out of conversations, because we don’t have representation in our government.  As our country moves forward, we need to make sure we have BIPOC leaders and youth-leaders to represent those who are marginalized and unheard,” said Rhee.  

“We need a voice, a voice like yours - Cardona - to speak for all us youth.” 



Call to Action for #RaiseYourHand2021:

The Raise Your Hand Student Agenda for Equity outlines a 5 point thrust for achieving equity in education, and a rapid response plan of action to address the disproportionate negative impact COVID-19 has had on marginalized youth. As the Biden-Harris Administration prioritizes racial equity during their first 100 days in office, join us in amplifying the Raise Your Hand Campaign and empowering student participation during the Leadership Development Boot Camp Series! Youth organizers can register to attend the leadership development bootcamp and participate in digital days of action  here.  Join us as we amplify our rally call across social media.  Adult allies and partner organizations should use the Partner Amplification Toolkit, and youth organizers can use the Youth Amplification Toolkit to support the movement.  For media inquiries or to speak with Raise Your Hand Student Ambassadors or Lead Organizers, please contact Tiffany Patterson, Director of Communications at [email protected] 


About Our Turn: Our Turn, a 501(c)(3), is the nation's leading movement of young people fighting for educational justice. Our Turn activates the power of students – over 85% are students of color – to bring about real, transformative change in the education system. As opposed to a top-down approach that silences voices and leaves students out of decision-making forums, we build capabilities and platforms for students – in partnership with families and community leaders – to organize and mobilize.

About the Raise Your Hand Campaign for Educational Justice:

Raise Your Hand is a national youth-led movement to build public support for a student-driven vision to reimagine education and achieve educational justice.