One local councilman is making youth civic engagement a priority.
Councilman Ritchie Torres, who represents the central Bronx, is pushing for young people to get involved in the political processes in order to give the youth a voice and combat low voter turnout rates.
Torres sponsored a successful city council resolution to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to join community boards, which was passed into law this summer.
He has also began Participatory Budgeting in Council District 15, a process that allows community residents to propose, develop and then select projects for City Council Capital funding. Torres is trying to bring young people into that process as well.
“Youth civic engagement is who I am, it’s what I value,” said Torres, who at 26 is the youngest current city councilmember. His interest in government began as a teen, when he acted as ‘district manager for a day’ in Community Board 10.
As part of his mission to encourage youth participation, Torres is partnering with educational group Generation Citizen, which teaches students about the political process through practice. Torres has allocated $10,000 to Generation Citizen to increase their capacity to place volunteers in and partner with schools across the city.
Torres announced the partnership on Friday, November 14t at the Theodore Roosevelt Educational Campus, speaking to a group of students from Belmont Preparatory Academy, Bronx High School for Law and Community Service, and Fordham High School for the Arts, whose classes have participated in Generation Citizen’s programs.
Generation Citizen places ‘Democracy coaches’ from nearby colleges—in this case Fordham University—to co-teach a semester long civics curriculum that emphasizes taking action locally, said Sarah Andes, Generation Citizen’s NYC site director.
The classes discuss issues in the student’s community, pick one that is important to them, and then develop a plan to address it.
Issues have included the need for security cameras in public housing and pedestrian safety.
In their quest to address the problem, the students learn how the various levels of local government work.
“Ultimately, we want young people to understand how to inform the political process, believe they have a voice, and know how to use that voice productively,” said Andes. “We believe when we get a broader population of people engaged, our democracy will be stronger because of it.”
Students who have experienced Generation Citizen in their classrooms spoke highly of the experience and the program’s mission at the announcement.
“It teaches us skills to go out and do, not just listen, “said Belmont Preparatory Academy student Petula Stanislas about the program. “I feel a sense of pride my peer and I are taking part in a greater cause.”
“We are united in the understanding that young people engaged in the community through the political process can only result in a positive outcome,” said Bronx High School of Law and Civics student Kyara Beaty.
“Leaders are born when you allow youth to express themselves,” she added.