“As a minority (high school) student in a white affluent town, what can I do to help make my voice be heard?” Chelsea Clinton paused a moment and looked up directly at the young woman standing up in front of a sold out crowd of a thousand people, at an event hosted in the gymnasium of this young woman’s very own high school, “I’m sorry that you even have to ask that question.” Chelsea looked around the room adding, hopefully one of your teachers or administrators is here tonight to hear this. If not them, then parents here tonight because everyone has a right to feel like their voice is heard.
“Start Now! You Can Make a Difference” author Chelsea Clinton and “What Can a Citizen Do?” author Dave Eggers, moderated by NPR’s Glynn Washington of Snap Judgement engaged us last night in a theme of how kids can get involved, make changes in the world and filled us with hope by sharing their belief in kids and the future. While my purpose of attending with my 10 year old was to inspire him to embrace his voice, I didn’t anticipate how I would feel when I left. It was a humbling experience, especially after listening to students speak from Oakland, San Francisco State and our local high school. I left questioning what can I do better to lift not only my own child up, but all kids in my local community. Yes, local community because as Chelsea Clinton and Dave Eggers echoed, local is where all change begins…and then it builds.
Ironically, this event comes at a time when our local school district just launched an Inclusive Sign Project Everyone is Welcome Here in the San Ramon Valley that states, “We strive for a diverse, welcoming and truly inclusive community.” As wonderful as the design is, after listening to a few minority students speak that attend the local high school I was left to wonder if by simply welcoming *all* are we are doing enough to serve the students of our schools? Perhaps, we should be giving them a platform to voice their thoughts just as Chelsea Clinton, Dave Eggers and Wynn Washington did. Everyone is heard here.
Other students asked questions about how to get their voice heard, what would they tell their younger selves, what are some similarities and differences from now and when they were growing up as well as touching upon the topic of how to steer clear of fake news. Glynn Washington shared that he recently spoke at an event for 200 high school students and asked them how many of them are on Facebook. He said only 1 student raised their hand, so that’s a good sign for combating fake news. Kids are all on Snapchat and other social platforms. Dave Egger’s chimed in saying you need to make sure your source is a valid source- for example, don’t use Wikipedia. Chelsea Clinton reminded us that unfortunately things like fake news and hate travel much faster than kindness and love so we need to all play our part in helping create a better society. A key ingredient to that is digital citizenship lessons and being an Upstander (as opposed to a bystander) in regard to bullying and cyberbullying.
One thing that spoke to my inner child that my 10 year old and I discussed on the walk back to the car was about writing. Dave Egger’s shared that if he could tell his younger self one thing it would be edit, revise and revise. He shared that there is nothing more saddening than when he hears a 9 year old say that they are bad at writing. “No one is born a good writer; it’s a process.” Chelsea Clinton added that just the process of writing, even if at first you aren’t sure about what you are writing about, it will help you figure that out.
Chelsea Clinton shared how from an early age her parents taught her that with privilege comes a great responsibility to use that privilege as a platform to be in service to others. When we think about privilege, how can we empower our children and inspire our community to not only fill a need but use our platform to give a voice to others within our community that may be a minority? That doesn’t take any money or organized effort – we can make a direct difference by doing that now. Just as Dave Egger’s shows us in his book, “A citizen’s not what you are- a citizen is what you do.” That’s not only a great message for kids…
While kids can’t vote, how we vote certainly impacts them. Not just at the national elections, but the local school board elections, city council, assembly members and propositions to keep them safe or filter funds to their schools. These are important, visible and influential people in our community that will either simply welcome them verses hear them.
Before I tucked my 10 year old in at night, he looked up and smiled at me. “I bet her Mommy and Daddy are proud of her.” We are all proud of her. Thank you to our local bookstore Rakestraw for organizing this event, as well as Chelsea Clinton, Dave Eggers and Glynn Washington for spending an evening opening our minds to possibilities.