“Crime is increasing, trigger happy…, Panic is spreading, God knows where we’re heading.”– Marvin Gaye
During my first year of coaching in the public school system, I invited a colleague from the NAACP to team up on an innovative education experiment. We wanted to test what would happen if student-athletes were simultaneously trained in social advocacy and self-management while learning to play a sport? Our guiding principles were “Exercise your right to vote. Exercise your ability to change your life. Exercise your body for better health. Exercise your mind by expanding your knowledge. Get Active and make time to exercise #GA123.” Our question was simple, how would this impact a student of color’s learning experience? What if that student lives in a neighborhood negatively affected by economic insecurity, racial trauma, and health issues? How can playing sports help them?
Recognizing, not all students of color have the same awareness, we were careful to build our curriculum around leadership development theories. Does leadership matter in education? We learned that as students learned leadership skills, they became skilled at managing their stress levels, increasing their academic engagement intensity, and improving their social connections for better interpersonal relationships. In the process, we were able to help them assess, cultivate and mitigate stressful and traumatic concerns in their lives while pushing them to help their peers to achieve more in school, home, and the sports arena. In this time of global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis – leadership is an essential skill.
As we trained these students of color on leadership development, we began to lay the groundwork for social advocacy — educating, engage, and energizing 18 -29 year-olds in civic engagement. As we began to pull together data for our study on civic engagement trends, we noticed a connection between civics, education, and financial independence. We believe that there is a significant connection between their enthusiasm level and the “change quotient.” Therefore, the U.S. may bounce back from this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis in record time.
We can see this in places like Missouri — where the civic, education, and financial trend lines are supporting these dynamic issues and will soon have a quantifiable impact. Its unfortunate politicians who agree that the U.S. is suffering from an education crisis, can’t work together to prevent schoolwide health, finance, and civic crisis. This rancorous environment is similar to the 2006 midterm elections when pro-public education leaders took control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. That year, young people were 15% of Missouri’s electorate, and the Senator won by just 45,000 votes. I know from experience – I led a statewide campaign in Missouri, and public education activist was the “signal in the noise.”
Students of color will support any leader who will stand up for them in these tough times. A recent poll confirms that they are a driving sector in a new “coalition conscience” — Latinos, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, and Young Voters. According to the poll, a clear majority (over 55%) of 18-29-year-olds believe “elected officials don’t have the same priorities I have.” They also think that politics has become too partisan (over 49%). What’s worse is that 59% believe that “elected officials” seem to be motivated by selfish reasons,” and only 24% reported “liking” a political candidate on Facebook.
In 2008, the youth voter turnout was driven mostly by a surge in Latino and African American youth.
- 42% and 39% of young Latino women and men voted.
- Over 52% of African American youth between the ages of 18 and 24 voted in 2008– the highest turnout rate among youth.
- Young voters were 21% of Missouri’s electorate– President Obama missed winning MO by just 39,000 votes, then VOC increased their 13% vote share to 19% in 2010.
Students of color understand the relationship between civics, education, and financial independence, and there will be ample opportunity for them to exercise their civic voice in the future. Young African Americans and Latinos are more than 15% and 18% of the total youth population. In 2020, Young People of Color will be over 37% percent of the 18-24 voting-age population. Kansas City, Missouri, grew by 4.1% to 459,787 and is now close to 40% POC, of which many voters are under 29. They know that being registered to vote makes you relevant. Also, students of color now know that sidestepping civic responsibilities can create a leadership vacuum that will suck the hope out of the political process.
Leadership is an essential skill, especially in this time of global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crises. While there is no way to train every student of color on strategies for navigating the complex relationships between social advocacy, self-management, and sports, we must try. The truth is that a good leader will find ways to develop, highlight, and contribute to all students’ success. As students learn how civic engagement impacts their economic security, racial trauma, and health — their influence will extend through their interests and affect education policy for every American. Let’s help them exercise their right to vote.
To be continued …
Kirk Clay is the President of Capitol View Advisors — a collaborative acting on its values in creative and strategic ways to connect communities with the information and resources they need to support and further their aspirations.