“I see you rockin’ Philly with democracy, and I’m like FCL,” sang the suited future civic leaders, parodying Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You.”
Undeterred by the rain, Future Civic Leaders, a D.C.-based non-profit aimed at encouraging civic and political engagement in youth, held an all-day workshop on Sunday for Philadelphia high schoolers.
Twelve aspiring activists from Knowledge Is Power Program DuBois Collegiate Academy, Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus, Constitution High School and University City High School spent the day at Hillel discussing problems in their communities, devising action plans and creating petitions.
Several guest speakers, including former Gov. Ed Rendell, offered the students advice on how to effectively mobilize change.
Rendell emphasized how the presidential election should not be the only election people care about.
College senior Adam Levenson, a summer fellow at FCL’s Washington, D.C. branch, added, “Your quality of education has much more to do with these local races and people don’t really think about that. Philadelphia historically has a pretty low turnout.”
FCL also brought in Paul Nedeau of the New Leaders Council, an organization like FCL that targets an older demographic. Nedeau, the director of the Philadelphia chapter, spoke about city activism. Following Nedeau’s speech, the students created petitions about issues important to them.
Mariatu Bah, a high-school senior at Mastery Charter-Shoemaker, decided to create a petition to rally support for after-school programs. “As a student, I saw that there [was] more violence between students when we left school early,” she said. “Not a lot of people would join activities … so people would go out and look for trouble.”
Prior to the workshop, Bah said she would not have known how to mobilize her plans. With the petition, she said, “We’ll show them. There are more people who feel the same as us. We should get funded for this.”
Many of the students had no idea what “civic engagement” was until they arrived at Hillel.
When College senior Hannah Peterson, the regional director of Future Civic Leaders, pitched Sunday’s workshop at local schools, she altered her presentation for students who didn’t know what the term meant.
For example, one of Constitution High School’s educational themes is active citizenship, but it isn’t necessarily practiced. As one teacher told Peterson, “They can probably tell you everything about all the amendments, but they can’t tell you what it means to be civically engaged in their community.”
The students left the workshop with a clearer understanding of what it means to be an engaged citizen.
Kyah Hawkins, a sophomore at Constitution High School, intends to initiate a campaign for cleaner neighborhoods. “I decided to find out who the councilman is in my community. I want to start on my block first, because I believe you should start at home before you go anywhere else,” Hawkins said.