When asked what moment in your life did you know you wanted to create change and be an activist, student panelists at #OurReopening: How Can Students Lead Change? had a myriad of answers — from not seeing their identities reflected in curriculum or the media, to participating in protests, to experiencing a problem firsthand in their communities.
In the final edition of the #OurReopening student-led roundtable series last week, students from across New York State, joined by New York State Chancellor Lester W. Young Jr., shifted the conversation from what schools can do to support them this year to how they can make change in their communities.
Student panelists shared how they are making inspiring change through art and poetry about social issues; leading groups of students who speak at school board meetings; engaging with policymakers to enact changes to issues they and their peers experience; organizing communities online; coordinating clothing drives; marching for Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives; and activating their voices to draw attention to a lack of an inclusive, culturally relevant, and historically representative curriculum.
While students described what the importance of civic engagement is to them differently, an overall message, shared by Chancellor Young, who has been active in public service for more than 50 years, resonated with them: “Civic engagement is more than just protesting. It is looking critically at a situation and being able to think through how we need to solve the problem. Change doesn’t happen immediately — change requires hard work and perseverance.”
For students who are looking to become more civically engaged, student panelists had some advice: it’s necessary to also remember that change happens when you work alongside people and engage in conversations about social issues. And there’s always a way you can positively impact your community — you just need to find those who are invested in change — because those who are closest to a problem are also closest to a solution.