Kids in middle and high school can’t vote, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely shut out of the political system.
This Saturday, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., Witnesses to Hunger, a Drexel-supported program made up of Philadelphia mothers documenting and advocating against poverty, will host its “Youth Forum and Back-to-School Party” aimed at getting young Philadelphians more involved in community activism.
Held at Lola 38 West, one of the highlights of the event will be four Philadelphia teenagers speaking on their experiences of living in poverty and how they hope to take part in moving their communities forward.
“Young people can’t cast a vote but they have the right to be heard. We want to facilitate that and encourage them through empowering them to speak,” said Michelle Taylor, program manager of Witnesses to Hunger. “We hope to raise awareness about what life is like for young people living in poverty, what kinds of changes they want to see in their communities, and amplify their voices.”
While the rain-or-shine event will feature fun items like music, face-painting and live performances from local groups, there will also be local organizations who work for youth and against poverty on-hand to provide information about services and how to get involved.
The event will also serve as a distribution point for school supplies for children in the Philadelphia area who would otherwise go without. The Witnesses established an online wishlist for the items, hoping to send at least 75 children (K-12) back to class with backpacks full of all the items they need for the school year.
“One filled bag has an estimated value of $75 to $100, which is way more than many families can afford per child,” Taylor explained. “We’re hoping to offset the costs and make sure more children start at the same line as others this year.”
Children living in poverty are a particular focus for the mothers of Witnesses to Hunger, which was established by the Dornsife School of Public Health’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities.
“The Witnesses are very much interested in working with youth — when I first came on board, that was one of the first things they made clear,” Taylor explained. “We found a way to integrate the voices of young people while also serving the needs of young people living in low-income communities.”
Philadelphia is an especially important place to address poverty, as almost 13 percent of the city’s population lives in deep poverty — defined as half of the federal poverty line, or just $11,700 a year for a family of four.
Couple those numbers with the cycle of trauma many of Philadelphia’s youngest residents face, and their population stands out as one that must receive attention — and opportunities.
And it can all start with a few words.
“Telling your story is powerful, not just for those listening, but for yourself — you can find healing in releasing what you keep inside,” Taylor said. “Young people in Philly also have a lot of opportunities for growth, with the support of their teachers, community leaders, and local organizations advocating hard on their behalf. They are the future, so now is the time to begin cultivating an interest in becoming politically aware and involved in their communities as agents of change.”