Still, We Rise: Youth Advocacy Engagement at CCC

By:

  • Dejah Headen
  • Komal Kaur
February 24, 2021

NLC’s Congressional City Conference (CCC) provides a collaborative space for city leaders, including youth delegates, to advocate together for municipal support needed from the federal government. Having leaders in local communities who provide an authentic space for youth to share and the resources to elevate their voices to the federal level helps youth express their views effectively. Youth who know their local government cares can create a ripple effect throughout the surrounding cities and increases education opportunities for all youth.

Racial tensions this past summer sparked Dejah’s interest in federal advocacy and prompted her to learn what more she could do. Not a day went by that news of another incident of police brutality, systemic racism, or protests demanding justice didn’t show up on social media. Seeing people that looked like her being unjustly murdered for the color of their skin began to take a toll on her mental health. Growing up, Komal’s father and brother were victims of hate speech because of their religious articles of faith. With the rise of inequitable immigration laws and hate speech for many minority communities, Komal has reflected on how many rich narratives, like her parents’ story, are full of courage, sacrifice and bravery. This is how she found her voice in civic engagement.  

By holding discussions with like-minded youth and learning about federal advocacy at CCC, all youth delegates will be able to bring what they’ve learned back to their own cities and youth councils and use their voices to make the changes they want to see in their communities.

This year at CCC, youth attendees will have an opportunity for deep discussions on topics ranging from federal and local finances, adolescent health reform, criminal justice reform and climate resiliency. Conferences like CCC and City Summit provide a learning space for youth but also create connections  to other delegates all over the country who are passionate about making their voices heard. 

Cities and NLC alike offer opportunities for youth to engage in federal advocacy. Recently Dejah and her youth council were part of a Zoom dialogue with the City of Fayetteville’s Human Relations Commission to discuss systemic racism, the current racial tension in the United States, and what we can do as leaders in our community to promote unity and anti-racism. Since attending the virtual City Summit, Dejah began educating herself on who her state and federal representatives are and engaging them on topics she is invested in through email, phone calls and petitions. Dejah took this empowerment and started sharing credible information to help friends and family learn more about current events and what they can do.

Komal was able to work with her City Council to get the Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month (SAAM) Proclamation passed. Motivated by her own and her family’s personal experiences, she wanted to shine a light on the positive contributions Sikhs have had throughout the community, in hopes it would work toward eliminating some of the bias, bullying, discrimination, and prejudice faced. After the SAAM Proclamation, the City Council was able to understand, recognize, and acknowledge the Sikh population of the City of Olathe. Sikh residents of Olathe saw this as a huge step because their local government was trying to understand different perspectives within the community.

This generation’s voice deserves to be heard, as cities, towns and villages respond, recover, and rebuild from the pandemic. The youth voice can be assumed to be “shut down” or not as important among certain peers and adults, but youth like Komal and Dejah know their voices have value and importance. By holding discussions with like-minded youth and learning about federal advocacy at CCC, all youth delegates will be able to bring what they’ve learned back to their own cities and youth councils and use their voices to make the changes they want to see in their communities. This is why they participate in NLC’s conferences and took the additional step to be part of the Youth Delegate Planning Committee to develop and facilitate this year’s virtual Congressional City Conference. Join them!

About the Authors

Dejah Headen

About the Authors

Dejah Headen is a member of the Fayetteville Cumberland Youth Council in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and a member of NLC’s Youth Delegate Planning Committee.

Komal Kaur

Komal Kaur is a member of the Olathe Teen Council in Olathe, Kansas and a member of NLC’s Youth Delegate Planning Committee.