Teens Speak Up is a youth-led initiative that strives to uplift the voices of today’s youth by providing them with an outlet to speak up on issues they are passionate about.
By Mary Stringham.
What inspired you to start this initiative?
I remember being a part of a group that had a serious lack of intersectionality. The founder and executive director didn’t have any intention of fixing that. They silenced the other members and made decisions that had a very negative impact on the organization. They made new members feel isolated and unwanted. I wanted to create a space where people no matter what they look like, act like, or think like, could feel safe, wanted and listened to.
What is the Teens Speak Up mission?
Our mission is to inspire young people who might not feel heard, to speak up, and create change.
What do you hope to achieve through the platform?
My overall goal with Teens Speak Up is to become a full- scale multimedia platform. I think that online storytelling is so powerful and our generation is so good at it. I think videos, and Op Ed’s would be super cool, and something we are currently working on. I also would LOVE to start interviewing people that may not have the same opinions as myself. I think that having conversations and trying to understand where everyone is coming from, is incredibly powerful and super important.
What are some projects Teens Speak Up is currently working on?
So I can’t give too much away BUT we are working on a super cool interview series with a few young women for women’s history month. We are also working on a video series that is going to highlight a bunch of teen led groups or organizations and the hard work that goes on behind the things that they are doing.
“I wanted to create a space where people no matter what they look like, act like, or think like, could feel safe, wanted and listened to.”
Why do you believe young people’s perspectives are important in today’s political climate?
If you think about it, Gen Z-ers are the ones who are actually going to be impacted by the decisions our legislators make today. We really should have a say in what our futures look like.
When did you first become politically engaged?
Growing up, gymnastics was a huge part of my life. I took classes, went to meets, and watched literally every competition on TV. I looked up to the girls on the national team so much. They were my idols. When I heard that the team physician, Larry Nassar had assaulted these girls for years, I was disgusted. I watched every single one of the trials and hearings on TV and I remember wanting to do something to help these girls. I reached out to one of my best friends from gymnastics, and we started planning the “times of gymnastics meet“ my 12-year-old self didn’t know the hard work, time and dedication that went into planning a gymnastics meet. It ended up falling through, but that feeling of doing something that I was just so passionate about was honestly the best feeling in the world. A year later, the Parkland shooting happened, and I was devastated. The fact that 17 students were murdered in their classrooms, a place where they’re supposed to feel safe was absolutely terrifying and so upsetting. I participated in my school’s walkout, attended marches, protest, rallies and more. I joined an organization that was working to prevent gun violence and from then on I would say have been pretty politically active.
What have been some of your biggest challenges with Teens Speak Up?
Honestly, finding the right people. It’s so common in the activism space that you find people who care more about there public image than the actual work that they’re doing. I’ve had to make some tough decisions to let some people go, and it’s been hard but you have to think about your organization and how it’s going to thrive.
Who are other youth activists you admire? Why?
So many!! I highly admire Yara Shahidi, and the incredible work she has done with her organization and using her platform to speak on issues she’s passionate about. I also love the work Emily Odesser is doing in the reproductive rights movement. Nadya Okamoto is absolutely incredible and inspires me every day. I also LOVE the work Isra Hirsi is doing in the climate justice world. But I also want to say that there are so many incredible activists that the world has yet to be exposed to. That’s one of Teens Speak Ups goals, to expose the world to smaller activists and give them the exposure that they deserve.
“Every form of action is incredibly important. You were given a voice for a reason. Use it.”
How would you like to see Teens Speak Up grow over the next year?
Our goals are to expose the work we are doing to 10,000 people. Numbers aren’t super important to us but we do want to reach as many people as possible. We also want to grow our team and have around 5 people per department. (Apply!!)
Why is teen empowerment important?
I think that in this day and age that we are living in, teens are seen as people who are on their phones all the time, and detached from politics and what’s going on in our world but that’s not always true. It’s important that we change how teens are seen and show that we are empowered, and passionate and driven to make change in our world.
If you had a piece of advice to give young people who want to become more politically engaged but may not know where to start, what would it be?
If there’s an issue that makes you upset, and outraged, use those feelings. Speak up. Whether that means using your social media platforms, having meaningful conversations, or writing to your legislators, it matters. Every form of action is incredibly important. You were given a voice for a reason. Use it.
How can anyone interested in Teens Speak Up get involved?
I love this question! You can DM us if you’d like to be on our podcast, and apply to be a part of the team via our website, teensspeakup.com
Photo credit: Stella Santini