For the past seven years, I have visualized a meeting with the president, our president, Barack Obama. I always wanted to ask him questions about criminal justice reform, police brutality and how we can give more opportunities to young people. Then it happened. I received a call from my colleague Ebonie, and heard the words: "Tomorrow, you will meet with the president". I took a deep breath and told her I looked forward to the opportunity. Once off of the phone, I sat and reflected on my life and all of the events during my 18 years on earth that led me to this huge opportunity.
Youth advocacy has been a cornerstone of everything I've done. When I was just 10-years-old, I founded Youth in Action and began mobilizing young folks across the country to take a stand on issues like bullying, gun violence and drugs. For the past four years, I've been honored to serve as the National Youth Director of National Action Network Youth Move under the guidance and leadership of civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton. As a passionate voice for my generation and the issues facing us, I was grateful to have such a unique opportunity to be in the room with the President and this first-of-its-kind gathering.
As I got out of the car on Thursday and walked up those White House steps, I could feel the rich history of those who had walked up those same stairs before me. The meeting was scheduled for an hour, but we went 30 minutes over because there was just so much to discuss. Members of the President's Cabinet were there such as Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ Vanita Gupta, Domestic Policy Advisor and the Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Munoz, lawyer Neil Eggleston and Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity Roy Austin Jr. The meeting also included different generations of the civil rights movement all there with one focus: how to work together to keep us progressing forward.
The President focused on criminal justice reform, improving relations between the police and the people they serve, ending the school-to-prison pipeline and more. Despite what some media outlets or blogs would have you believe, the meeting at the White House was more than just a get-together; it was validation. Validation of the work our elders have done and are still doing.
Validation that young people care about the issues plaguing our communities. Validation that not only do we care, but we have ideas and strategies on how to solve those issues.
I felt like this was the beginning of a collaboration between the White House and the people in the room who represented both grassroots movements and long-established civil rights organizations.
While I had known many of them through the years, there was still a certain atmosphere of nervousness and excitement. There was coffee and water in the most fancy little cups. And President Obama walked in with tea! It was an experience that I will never forget.
After hearing what everyone is working towards, we all agreed that we need to do that work together because the President is powerful but it takes local government to solve many of these issues. It therefore lays heavily on the citizens and community leaders to get involved and hold local politicians accountable. We cannot just sit back and expect the President to solve everything - we must do our part as well. I am energized to keep doing my part and hope that my peers will do the same because it is, after all, our future.