Two Sanderson High School students who organized a town hall forum on school safety last month aren't done speaking out about issues that affect young people.
Greear Webb and Woody Wisz, rising seniors at the Raleigh school, have partnered with Zainab Baloch, who ran unsuccessfully last fall for a seat on the Raleigh City Council, to create a group called Young Americans for Policy (reform). They held a press conference Thursday to announce the project.
"We didn’t feel like we were done,” Wisz said of the town hall forum and also a school walkout in March. “From there, we decided we still wanted to be involved and still help our community.”
YAP will tackle issues of community safety, race and social media. The group is planning a voter-registration initiative and mentor opportunities for young people interested in running for elected office, and it wants to continue an open dialogue.
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"We must bridge the gap between community and government,” Webb said.
Young people have been pushing for changes, including tougher gun laws, since the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Students across the country, including in the Triangle, walked out of class March 14. Ten days later, thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C., and several other cities, including Raleigh, to push for safer schools.
Parkland students this week started a nationwide bus tour to encourage young people to register to vote.
“While we recognize that dialogue is only the first step, it is a crucial one,” Webb said.
YAP plans to host a series of town halls like the May 29 event at Sanderson, which featured a panel of students and mental health and security professionals.
The first in the series will focus on race and ethnicity, which Webb says comes in the wake of “highly politicized shootings of young African-American men, and the beating of Raleigh’s own Kyron Hinton.”
Hinton was hospitalized after being beaten by police and bitten by a police dog on April 3. A Wake County sheriff's deputy and two Highway Patrol troopers have been charged in the case.
YAP's goals might sound ambitious, but Webb, Wisz and Baloch said the work is important.
“We recognize that we don’t create policy,” Wisz said. “We’re here to start conversations and to lobby the people that do.”
Baloch said YAP will reach out to community leaders for help with funding and spreading the word. She wants to shed light on marginalized groups. For example, she said, African-American children are six times more likely than their peers to be arrested at North Carolina schools.
“The issues that we’re talking about do affect youth, so we will make sure that youth is our primary focus,” Baloch said. “Leaders in today’s government are making policy that will affect our generation for the longest.”
YAP is currently seeking applicants for a board of directors and advisory board. More information is available online at yapreform.com.