Make Yourself Heard: Three Youth Profiles

Teen Power Politics The following profiles are excerpted from the book TEEN POWER POLITICS: MAKE YOURSELF HEARD "an issue oriented approach for you to get engaged in a practical way in the civil and political society that's already making decisions affecting you."



JUSTIN KOPETSKY:
South Dakota. One of the least populous states in the Union. One where youth leaves more than stays. Their departure spells economic and social disaster for the region. How to hold them there? This is a question Justin Kopetsky, as a Student Panel Board member of KidsVoting USA, and a resident of Frederick, South Dakota (population 250), confronts daily.

A high school senior, Justin works with teens around the state to develop interest in the political process and see why kids leave and how to attract them to stay or return. The answers lie in work opportunities in a rural agrarian economy and sparsely populated state. Even before they vote, kids in South Dakota need to ensure their state and federal representatives are on top of legislation providing for grain minimums; ranch, farming, and parkland issues with respect to the reintroduction of bison; international trade agreements affecting farm produce; funding opportunities for school systems; or whether subsidies are available for start-up businesses to keep youth there. Other concerns: driving ages (in a rural state, kids drive often far earlier than urban kids do) and making the perspective of youth heard while ensuring they get the information they need.

Through KidsVoting, Justin helped organize a 22-state [online]chat between several schools (elementary through high school) in each state and two prominent U.S. Senators, one Democrat and one Republican. The leaders heard concerned voices from a population not always well represented in Congress and students were able to learn directly the Senators views.

Justin is now known throughout the state, speaking at major sports events, organizing "Youth on Youth Perspective" conferences, and participating in radio spots for voting PSAs. He believes that his generation can do anything and he is hoping to turn that energy to South Dakotas benefit. By participating in the national activities of KidsVoting, Justin is able to bring to the forefront the perspective of his small state and bring back to South Dakota some of the solutions derived from more industrial ones. He plans to stay in the arena, studying political science in college and acquiring further skills to aid his community, state, and country.

CELESTE LOPEZ:

Giving others their voice, Mesa, Arizona
"Homeless." "Working Poor." Who are they? Celeste Lopez of Mesa, Arizona, knows exactly who they are. Just people -- ambitious, talented, imperfect -- without the breaks weve had. Shes changing that.

"Through KidsVoting, Justin helped organize a 22-state [online] chat between several schools in each state and two prominent U.S. Senators."
To help the living conditions of the migrant worker population, many Mesa families cooked home meals and took them to the orange groves to feed the worker families. Celeste shared this tradition of service with her parents by bringing food to the groves and later, serving meals in soup kitchens and finding living quarters, health care, and opportunity for the working poor and urban homeless of the greater Phoenix area. The dignity of the people she aided made a lasting impression. Opportunity, she realized, was what most people desired, whether to better themselves financially or to express their needs. Searching within herself to determine how best she could be effective and realizing she could use her high school paper journalism skills, Celeste helped found a community newspaper written and sold primarily by the homeless and working poor within her community.

To start, Celeste researched funding, creating, and printing the newspaper. She had experience writing, but her school publications were already established and funded. Now she was going it alone. She discovered Real Change in Seattle, Washington, a paper with a similar mission. Real Changes founder helped Celeste structure the paper.

Using lawyers and community advisors to ensure that the paper be non-profit and professional, Celeste and several companions got funding and created True Liberty. The paper, first published on July 4, 1997, is a 16-page black-and-white quarterly marketed to the general Phoenix area. In True Liberty the actual voice of the street is being heard, giving contributors the satisfaction of their published expression.

The paper is successful on many levels, influencing civic and societal policies concerning Phoenixs homeless and working poor. Many of Arizonas homeless are now being perceived as gifted writers, artists, and reporters, changing assumptions of what it means to be without a job, residence, or food. The artists and poets of True Liberty are finding confidence and pride in their own innate creative gift. Street vendors are partially supporting themselves with the portion of magazine sales they retain. Others are earning income by serving advertising and business functions for the publication.

True Liberty has given rise to opportunities for expression for Celeste and her friends who have realized how opening the door for the unheard supports their own sound. By their efforts, another hurdle standing in the way of regaining and going forward with productive lives is being cleared. Celeste has gone on to college, but the paper she founded remains. Shell vote as soon as she is able, ensuring with that vote that local issues, the ones with which shes been so concerned throughout her life, continue to be effectively and strongly influenced by those who see opportunity in everyone.



KATRINA NIMMERS:

Giving Back in South Central, Los Angeles, California
Mention South Central and the word "tennis" does not automatically pop into ones head. An expensive, often socially elite game, people of color are not well represented in tennis. There are no great clubs, tournament sites, pros, or even enough tennis courts in the area to encourage kids to play. But there have been stellar examples of minority tennis players, and Katrina Nimmers of South Central is one of them.

Coached by her tournament tennis-playing father since the age of five, eighteen-year-old Katrina is someone we should watch as she becomes a powerful force in professional tennis. But Katrinas story is not only about tennis, but also about making a change in her community.

"In 1991, at age eleven, Katrina started Tennis on Wheels, a program to provide for others in her neighborhood what she already had: a chance to find a career, learn about oneself."
South Central has been known for its violence, riots, and other characterizations that do not fit all of the residents, but which hang over all of their heads. Training in tennis requires everyday practice but in South Central, courts are few. To get in the hours, a court was often improvised in a driveway, a backyard, or inside a large building. Even with these difficulties, Katrina wondered why others couldnt also have this opportunity. So, in 1991, at age eleven, Katrina started Tennis on Wheels, a program to provide for others in her neighborhood what she already had: a chance to find a career, learn about oneself, and an alternative to the violence, drugs, and illiteracy faced these days, not only in South Central Los Angeles.

Tennis on Wheels takes its training program everywhere -- from the neighborhood public park, to the middle of an asphalt boulevard, to a grassy back road in South Carolina -- providing professional tennis instruction to underprivileged youth from two to eighteen for $1 a lesson. It conducts clinics, educational activities, and tournaments involving its participants in the inner cities, providing families there the opportunity to see their children participate and view professional and new players compete. Training and job opportunities are available for teens and adults to coach other kids.

Awakened by Katrina to the possibility of opening new markets in the inner cities, athletic clothing and equipment sponsors are providing racquets, balls, tennis shirts and other items often hard for inner-city families to afford.

Kids are spending time training for a sport that requires focus and determination. Several well-qualified participants, promoted by Katrina and her father to the athletic scouts and sponsors, are now looking at professional tennis opportunities. Others are showing increased interest in their education as a direct result of Tennis on Wheels requirements of attention to school work as a basis for goals. They are off the streets, and not slouched in front of TV. They are active and resolute. They are all learning how to make changes, within themselves and without.

You get results when you don’t give up. Katrina didn’t and she’s learned how to use her fast-growing celebrity to ensure that others also have a chance.

Sara Jane Boyers, (2000) The Millbrook Press, Brookfield, CT.
(c) 2000 Sara Jane Boyers

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