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Finding My Voice and Power: A Youth Leadership Story

By Amelia Federico

I was fifteen years old when I learned what college remediation was. It was my sophomore year of high school, and I had just self enrolled into a new school. As I was getting acquainted with the new school, I had a meeting with my school principal. During our conversation, the topic of college remediation came about. My principal informed me that our school had a college remediation rate of less than 6%. I learned that it is desirable to have a low remediation rate. I looked across the graph, and I saw the college remediation rate for my former school. The value of that number sent chills down my spine. It was at that moment that I was face to face with the fact that quality education is a privilege not a right. 

 

After the conversation ended, I could not forget about the graph. I thought of all of my old peers at my former school and recall being genuinely concerned about them. But most of all, I was pissed at our school system for allowing that to happen. The school you attend should not dictate your educational outcome, but, as it appeared in this case, it did. My curiosity sparked as I tried to think of ways I could fix this. I knew that I could not repair this broken system all on my own, so I followed up with my principal and asked if he knew where I could get involved. I was soon connected with Miss Molly O’Connor (the best organizer I know). I still remember my first one-on-one with Molly. She came to my school, and we met in my cafeteria common space. She listened to me as I told her how upset I was about the broken system. I experienced something I never had before: an adult who did not sugar coat the truth while also listening. This was empowering. With Molly’s help, I slowly started getting involved with Our Turn - a youth-led organization activating young people of color and allies to dismantle oppressive structures that limit access to quality education.

 

As a young, low income student who is openly queer, and latina, the opportunity to organize was empowering. Organizing with Our Turn, I had the opportunity to testify at school board meetings, engage my community in issue and policy campaigns, and facilitate stakeholder meetings. Each of these experiences was amazing and shaped my perspective and knowledge as a new young leader. The first stakeholder meeting that I led was with a former DPS School board member. Keep in mind, I was fifteen and still not yet the leader I am today. I was terrified to even speak in that meeting. I remember Molly providing support before the meeting. She did this by giving me reassurance that I would do amazing, and that it is a privilege that elected officials get to hear from me. I helped facilitate the meeting as well as make a personal statement about the mental health campaign other youth organizers and I were launching to gain support from the board member. I didn’t know it at the time, but that meeting was the start of my journey into organizing and leadership. I believe that what makes Our Turn so unique and special is their ability to unlock youth power to fight for a seat at the table. Not only this, but Our Turn elevates youth voices and helps them grab the microphone in decision making spaces. I see some movements and organizations advertising as “student-led,” “empowering young folks,” etc. But, students are left out of decision making spaces, are not given a real voice, or are just doing busy work in the background. Our Turn gave me the microphone I needed to advocate for the change I wanted to see in my community. I had the opportunity to shape campaign strategy, influence recruitment measures, and let my creative ideas come to fruition. Our Turn did this by: creating a safe space to ask questions, bring new ideas forward, and exercise the humility to learn without the fear of not knowing. I firmly believe that these characteristics of Our Turn supported me to be the leader I am today. Back in 2017 when I started as an organizer, if you were to tell me that I would lead the mental health campaign to victory I wouldn’t have believed you. In January of 202, I mobilized volunteers to a Denver Public School (DPS) board meeting to testify in support of new funding to be allocated to mental health supports in Denver. Our proposal was approved, and now DPS has 13 new mental health counselors solely dedicated to students’ mental health, all thanks to the work of Our Turn youth leaders. 

 

Just a few short years later, I am now twenty years old and interning in Washington D.C. This past Spring, I had the opportunity to intern in Senator Bennet’s office through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. Without Our Turn supporting me the way they did as a young leader, I don’t think I would be where I am now, and for that, I am forever grateful for Our Turn’s dedication to uplifting young leaders. 

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