Meet Student Voice, Kayla

In this period of unprecedented events, I know millions of kids who are ready to share their voices. Join me in listening and giving them a platform to speak.

Kayla is a 15-year-old student from Florida who loves math, medicine, soccer, the environment, piano, and various other instruments. She loves to help people and want to encourage others through her words, voice and actions. Kayla would like to pursue a degree in biomedical health sciences.

As a mom of four, and the leader of a philanthropy whose mission is to create healthier school communities in partnership with our nation’s schools and our nation’s youth, I feel more strongly than ever that “the youth voice” is not being heard. Whether it be the unrest in our nation around race and inequality, the fear of living in a COVID-19 world, or the consequences of food insecurity, job losses or other vital topics of importance to them, young voices need to be heard.

At GENYOUth, we can’t do what we do without the student voice. We are privileged to support 38 million kids daily in 73,000 of our nation’s schools because our programs are created for and with KIDS. It’s their voice that curates, defines, and elevates the work we do. Our society will only grow stronger if we uplift, empower, and amplify the voices of this next generation. For the foreseeable future, I will turn over this platform on Medium to them, in addition to my Twitter and Instagram feeds. They have asked one thing of me: LET US SPEAK! I am honored to do so. I am now pleased to share Kayla’s voice with you:

As a 15-year-old black female in America, the events of the past few weeks have opened my eyes to the injustice around the country. When George Floyd was first killed all I felt was powerless and heartbroken by everything I was seeing. I was terrified. Terrified of all of the anger and sadness that had overrun the country and of how useless I felt. I saw videos of tear gas and rubber bullets fired at protesters and all I felt was overwhelmed. I believed that speaking out was useless because my voice would not change anything. I kept asking myself that if I have never experienced racism, why would anything I say matter? I started to feel like I wasn’t “black enough” to have an opinion on what was happening. While feeling all of this, the one feeling I did not feel was hope.

Solutions are what center me. Watching what was going on, I felt like it would never end which is what a lot of youths are feeling right now. What can I do? What impact can I possibly have on this country? We saw America go through this same process when Trayvon Martin was killed in 2013 and the Black Lives Matter movement was born. But after that, America went right back to “normal”. I ask myself, What makes this time any different? Will anything change this time around? This is the question that many young people are grappling with, and still don’t know the answer to this. But what we have now is the platform and the resources to make a change.

I have seen the people of this country come together all fighting for one thing; Justice. Moving forward, the only way to truly achieve justice is to understand why countless generations have gone through this exact same fight and nothing has changed. We need to understand why generations of parents must still teach their black children what to do if they are pulled over by the police. Don’t run. Stay calm. No sudden movements. Sadly, acting non-violently is still not enough to cut through the generations of inherited racism that are plaguing our country. We must make sure that innocent people aren’t killed on our streets by the very people who are sworn to protect us.

Each person has the power to make a change in their community by using their voice to advocate for legislation, sign petitions, and help educate people. The power within each person is not biased by age, race, or gender. With technology so accessible everyone has the responsibility to educate themselves about the actions needed to make a difference. The people of this country cannot afford to bury another black man, woman, or child and it is our duty to see this through.

We are in a time of young advocates. We each have the opportunity to use our platform to elevate our message. It is important to understand the true purpose of the police system, before seeking to change it. A common misconception is that they are here to protect and serve ALL citizens. Alex S. Vitale’s book highlights how police forces were originally started to manage the poor, not to care for civilians. It is important to remember this origin of policing, and how it relates to the legacy of racism. We cannot forget about the profound role that slavery and Jim Crow laws have played in shaping our society. After slavery, wealth was created for white people, and black people were deprived of opportunities. Hence, black people have started from a diminished position which makes them more likely to encounter the criminal justice system.

One thing that divides many people is the notion that “all cops are bad.” I believe that this is not true, but police are part of a corrupt and broken system. What has been missing from previous protests and riots, is proper governmental action. “Building Momentum from the Ground Up: A Toolkit for Promoting Justice in Policing”, published a report in 2015 of 15 policies that are needed to stop police brutality. Five years later, we are facing the same issues and not enough has changed.

Below are 10 different policies that need to be implemented in order to change the system. Websites like Campaign Zero and Popular Democracy outline specific actions that can be taken under each policy.

We need to:

1. Truly understand what the Black Lives Matter movement stands for and learn about how previous injustices clearly shine light on systematic corruption. In order to fix our future, we must understand the past oppression.

2. Elect candidates that stand for justice and the reform that you want to see. In most mayoral elections across the country voter turnout is only 15%. We need to increase voter turnout for local elections because that is how policies can travel up the chain of political command. We need to put into place elected officials that will pass the legislation needed to reform the police system.

3. For the generations that are still too young to vote this is the best time to do research on the policies like the ones listed above. Change is going to be made by truly understanding policy and by writing letters to your local legislature. The local government is the one that controls police departments, which is why they need to be persuaded to change the system.

We need to take progressive action and this generation has the resources to stop the cycle of blatant racism that is killing innocent people. We have the privilege of technology and the power of free speech and we cannot let them go to waste. We must use this privilege to make change. We need to create policy reform and speak for the millions of black Americans who have to live in fear every single day. We need to create change for the mothers and fathers who are terrified for their children, and for the kids who are living in a country where they need to be afraid because of their skin color. It is time to turn this sadness and anger everyone is feeling into hope and action. It is time for us to use our voices to speak up and create the systemic reform that is so desperately needed. Each and every person has the power to make a change. It is time to use that power to save our future. We each hold the lives of the next generation of black children in our hands, so let’s never make the mistake of inaction again.

Mom of 4 with Oren. CEO of GENYOUth. Strategic adviser. Former news anchor and financial analyst.