For years, young people have been hearing: “You are too young to make a difference.” But it’s just not true.
Editor’s note: this post is the second in a 3-part series sponsored by OneAmerica, exploring youth civic engagement around immigration. OneAmerica’s youth group was recognized with a 2013 Colleen Willoughby Youth Civic Education award.
Eddy Martinez, 18, cannot be separated from his iPhone for a minute, can text at the speed of light and is a notorious flirt. All the girls love him. Everybody loves him.
And Eddy has made some tough choices. One day he realized he was hanging out with the wrong crowd. He didn’t really care about school. He was worried about whether his family was going to be separated because of their mixed immigration status. He was sick of it, but he didn’t see how he could change any of it. He realized that he had to envision himself differently and become part of a movement.
In addition to becoming an Act 6 scholar and getting a full ride to college, he became a community leader. He helped start Fuerte, a civic engagement leadership group for his high school, where he got introduced to OneAmerica and its work.
He missed watching his last homecoming football game to phone bank and canvass to encourage people to vote. Along with other youth he helped reach out to over 90,000 people and reminded them of their rights. He participated in rallies and testified in front of the Federal Way School board to pass a resolution to support the WA State Dream Act (which they did). He helped organize and bring over 250 youth to the Capitol to testify and talk to legislators about how this law if passed will help benefit his community.
He took a week off from school along with 25 other youth from across the state and participated in the Keeping Washington Families Together Bus Tour to highlight the importance of Comprehensive Immigration Reform. There he helped organize the logistics, translate and speak to the community.
Eddy and Fuerte got a standing ovation at the OneAmerica Annual Celebration for the amazing impact and work they have in the community. Because they get it. Eddy and the youth of Fuerte understand that the laws being passed today will affect their lives in the future. That if you want to make a difference, you are never too young to start.
In the 2012 elections there was over 50% youth turnout—58% percent in the key swing states. That means it was youth who helped determine the future of this country. And for young people, the biggest impact on turnout comes from interaction with people in their close network.
Eddy wants to use that power to help his peers. He shared with me one time: “My goal is to self-empower the minorities and find their inner voices and I’m not going to stop insisting for change until we really see it. We’re all humans and deserve an equal opportunity.”