A few days ago, young people gathered in Fresno for some real talk about what California’s spending choices say about its values—and to have that conversation recorded. Soon, their words and voices will be used for radio ads across the state.
The session came at the end of an especially painful week for our country—a week that included the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and an attack on Dallas police officers. In a powerful way, our conversation demonstrated that the way we invest city and state budgets is literally a life-or-death matter for our communities. Our young people are demanding a new approach that invests in the things that really keep us safe and will build a better and healthier future for our state.
And in the midst of so much pain, here were these young women and men of color, talking about the importance of being active in their communities, of voting, and of getting loud with policy makers and systems leaders. Crystal, who is 22 and from Merced, said, “We have to kill that stereotype that youth don’t care. They do care, and they do have a voice.”
Youth leaders from across California gathered in Fresno last week to discuss California’s budget priorities and how to invest in real safety.
They shared their hopes and dreams for the next generation and for their younger siblings and their children. Esmeralda, an 18-year-old youth leader from Fresno said, “If we spent more on education than on incarceration, I wouldn’t have to stress every single day about my younger brothers and sisters and future generations’ educations.” They encouraged other young people to also work toward change and not let others’ expectations define their futures. They spoke with honesty, power, and the wisdom that only comes from personal experience.
Those of us who are privileged to work toward policies that support the health of young people and their families, and away from those that criminalize them, know the moral and fiscal reasons why change is vital. California’s youth have experienced the consequences of decades of overspending on prisons and punishment, and know that isn’t what keeps their schools and communities safe.
They recounted what it actually feels like to learn that your school district, county, and state spend more on incarceration than your education. They also spoke to their personal experiences: what it felt like every time a teacher kicked them out of class, instead of asking what was going on at home. Zeke, a 16-year old Fresno student, suggested that “instead of spending so much money on law and incarceration, we should be spending it on finding out how to more effectively teach and mentor students.”
Hearing these young people was a truly moving experience. More Californians need to hear directly from our youth—and soon, they will! Keep an ear out for radio ads featuring these young people. They’ll be the ones where powerful young Californians are demanding that we stop betting on their failure and, instead, invest in real safety centered on education and health.