May's featured Member Organization is Voices for Children. Voices for Children advocates for equitable opportunities for children in Nebraska through research, policy, and community engagement. We spoke with Anahí Salazar, Policy Coordinator at Voices for Children about their recent Youth Lobby Day.
“We know that we as adults can have different viewpoints than young people growing up in these systems or communities. So we really wanted to make sure that we had the youth voice when we were advocating for things and wanted to make sure that we were advocating from what the youth saw as a necessity,” Salazar said.
Salazar helped create the Youth Advisory Council which is composed of high school-aged Nebraskans to learn about what democracy looks like, the role of government, and how you can advocate for your communities, friends, and yourself within these spaces. The goal is to make it less intimidating and less scary for young people to use their voice and their power. The Youth Advisory Council has already spent some time earlier in the session testifying during committee meetings.
“With the Youth Advisory Council, we wanted to do a Youth Lobby Day too. So we brought a handful of young people from predominantly North Omaha, mainly students from North High, and then some 8th graders, and we toured the Capitol. We were set to meet with Senator McKinney to discuss LB 630, the protection for natural hair in schools. And because our students were African American and Black, we talked about ‘what does hair mean to you’ and how this bill, and hopefully, statute, will apply to them in the future and in their community,” Salazar said.
When Voices for Children held their Youth Lobby Day, it was during an all-day debate, which Salazar said made the atmosphere a little bit less intimidating than a committee hearing. Students were able to go to a hallway and speak to the senators about anything.
“You're not on the record and don't have a specific time limit so I think, in that sense, it was a little easier for them to be like, ‘oh, I can come back and do this again, pull my senator off the floor and talk to them about a certain bill or issue that I'm passionate about,’ because at the end of the day, they're just people,” Salazar said.
Voices for Children plans to host a Youth Lobby Day each session more frequently with their Youth Advisory Council and potentially younger members of the community.
“We really appreciate the youth's energy and discussion when it comes to policies that directly affect them, their friends, and their community members. We really value it at Voices for Children and I think if we, as the second house, really see these young people starting to engage in civic duty, we can see a really great positive change within our legislature. I've seen it firsthand, how a young person's lived experience can really change the perspective of a senator on an issue that they might be very distant from, because their district looks very different from an urban area. There's a lot of power in young people, and hopefully we can get more of them here to the Capitol in Lincoln,” Salazar said.