Welcoming youth voices into advocacy

“Being an advocate, for me, means always believing that things can get better.”

By: Angela Kasyoka | October 2020

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One thing I’ve learned in my time on the Youth Advocacy Council at NC Child is that youth can be really effective advocates for change. I’ve seen that in our school system, in how we’ve helped to change tobacco policy. I’ve also seen it at the state level, when our state’s leading health organizations and the Attorney General’s office were willing to listen to our perspectives to help shape the policies they were working on to curb youth access to vaping. Although we’re not old enough to vote yet, our voices do matter – but organizations don’t always make it easy for us to get involved.  

This is my second year on the Youth Advocacy Council at NC Child, and this summer I had the chance to work as a Media Intern with the NC Child team. Part of what I focused on was opening up NC Child’s communications to be more relevant to youth audiences. The biggest thing I saw is that NC Child was not using Instagram to connect with us. Instagram is the primary place where youth are spending their time and connecting about all the issues that matter to them. Personally, I’m on Instagram with my friends every day, and one of my group chats is always talking about current events and politics.   

It’s important to understand how young people use social media. It’s critical if organizations want to engage with youth. Social media can give you the platform to listen to what youth have to say, and in turn share what you have to say as an organization. I think marketing yourself in a way that youth audiences can really connect with is the only way to get them to be more involved in what’s going on.  

If you don’t open up your messaging and communications to younger people, you’re reinforcing the negative idea that this is an adult’s world, and youth don’t have to care about what’s going on. If young people see more people like themselves wanting to go out and vote, and wanting to get involved in advocacy, then they’re going to want to be a part of it too. It’s not just something that is for adults – so organizations shouldn’t talk about it like it’s only for adults.  

If you don’t know how or where to communicate with youth, then the easiest thing to do is to ask them. We created a survey on Survey Monkey over the summer for this very purpose. I sent it out to the other Youth Advocacy Council members and found out more about how they use Instagram, especially related to advocacy.  

That information really shaped the posts that I helped make about voter engagement, and I learned a lot. I didn’t know, for example, that I could pre-register to vote in NC. I got some of my friends to do it too. Now when I’m 18, I’ll automatically be able to just go straight to the ballots.  

I also think it’s really important to maintain a positive mindset, even in really challenging situations. Being an advocate, for me, means always believing that things can get better. People need to take into account that there has been so much progress in our society, because people worked at it. So that’s how I like to stay optimistic; I just tell myself that things will improve if I keep trying to make a change.  

Angela is a high school junior in Wake county, and a member of NC Child’s Youth Advocacy Council.