Youth inspire me. Their energy gives me hope for the future, and educating them is critical to building a better world for all to share.
Florida’s youth are a growing voting block. When they turn 18, they’ll be given the power to vote, but often, society doesn’t place value or effort on youth before they can vote. Without pre-voting-age education, young voters can become disheartened by the idea that their democracy doesn’t reflect them.
That’s why FCV-EF Democracy for All Florida has started our Democracy For Youth program (DeFY). DeFY is a proactive approach that aims to move our society forward by equipping and training future decision-makers, future leaders, and future voters. We want to create a world where leaders and organizers are coming out of our community to serve our community.
Democracy for Youth currently serves youth in South Florida, namely Immigrant, Black, Brown, and LGBTQ+ children who have historically been marginalized by mainstream society. By focusing on these groups and customizing programs to meet their needs and interests, we aim to make civic engagement a daily practice. DeFY connects youth to our history and how to become a leader who can change the tide. We want youth to see themselves in their lawmakers, not just to teach the importance of community accountability, but to inspire, catalyze, and encourage them to step up in their own way.
Through DeFY, we are disrupting cycles of disenfranchisement. Through our in-person and virtual programming, we aim to give youth the tools they need to navigate, and, when needed, change the political and civic system.
We are doing the long-term work to create a more informed voter block through hands-on workshops and field trips. DeFY workshops educate youth on the history of voting, restorative and transformative justice, barriers to our communities, student rights in public schools, and how to organize our communities at a young age. DeFY’s field trips give youth a hands-on, face-to-face opportunity with local leaders and organizers who can give them insight, share their experiences, and collaborate on the projects youth want to do in their communities or schools.
DeFY encourages organizing because we believe that the act of unifying our community on the issues that matter to us doesn’t just win victories for Florida’s people and environment, but because organizing is the essence of democracy itself. Our end goal is to move youth towards action through tangible local projects that are fueled by the youth’s passions.
For example, the youth we serve have expressed interest in fighting homelessness and conflict resolution. So, with partners and connections in South Florida, we have been able to educate them through experience. So far, we’ve met with Valencia Gunder who runs a non-profit, Smile Trust Inc, that works with those who are houseless, and they shared with the youth what their program looks like, how to create a positive impact, and how to get involved in these issues. To prevent violence and the all too common school-to-prison pipeline for disenfranchised youth, DeFY has worked to teach the youth healthy ways to cope with emotions and normalize alternative ways to deal with emotions outside of violence. We share tools of healing with the hope that one method will resonate with the individuals and affect not just their happiness today but their future for years to come.
Beyond field trips, DeFY helps youth to put what they’ve learned into practice by helping complete a local project. For example, those interested in conflict resolution are working to establish a youth-led debate club at their school to have space to talk and share opposing views with their peers, teachers, and administrators.
For me, DeFY is a passion and calling. Youth are our future. It’s not only work that develops individuals, but, person by person, shapes our society. By focusing on the next generation, we commit to long-term investment, both emotional and financial.
As we continue to grow, our hybrid in-person/virtual workshops will continue to be flexible and community-centered. We hope that with an increased capacity we can serve more and more South Floridian youth. Can you help us? The best thing you can do to help empower the voters of tomorrow is to make a gift to Democracy for All Florida. Our youth thanks you; our future thanks you.