By using his voice, Brandon is changing the world too.
At 826 Valencia, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco, we help students from under-resourced schools and communities build writing skills, tell their stories, and amplify their voices on issues that matter to them. As we prepare for the most consequential election of our time, we invited our students to write letters to voters. We asked students: what issues are important to you, your community, and your family? What would you do if you were president? What would you say to someone who hasn’t decided yet whether or not they should vote?
These young authors responded with insight and conviction. Their words are personal and powerful:
I would like to see people taking action against climate change…What’s happening right now in California shows how it is affecting us. The wildfires are caused by climate change. You might think, ‘Well, these wildfires are not going to affect me.’ Your children will be affected by this and your grandchildren might be affected by this too. — Andrea Santiago, age 14
Some of their presidential agendas sound fun, but are punctuated by the systemic issues underlying this election, like the cost of healthcare:
If I were president, I would lower prices on expensive things like mansions, pools, emergency rooms, and medicine. — Jesus Espinoza, age 8
They advocate for compassion and human rights:
There are many immigrants that don’t have rights. They just want a better life to live. They should have their rights to be what they want. The right to live happily. The right to live in peace with their family. — Alondra Margarito-Reyes, age 9
Above all, the students are unanimous on one point: we must vote.
To get their message to as many potential voters as possible we’ve made their writing available as free digital postcards, full letters, and posters. Anyone can download these and email or text to family and friends to remind them to vote.
At our sister chapters in the 826 National network, students in other cities are engaging with local issues and writing similar calls to action. Their ideas will reach readers around the world — on social media, on podcasts, through books and anthologies, and more. That’s thousands of youth across the country using their voices to promote civic engagement.
Last month, the president gave a speech calling for “a Patriotic education” in our schools. It presents a view of patriotism that devalues the experiences of Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color by erasing the complex narratives that comprise our nation. This erasure — of history, of complexity, of lived experiences — stands in stark contrast with the values of inclusion and civic engagement voiced by students like Brandon, Andrea, Jesus, and Alondra. These young people speak to the importance of diverse narratives in a democracy. Rather than erase their stories and perspectives, we must amplify them. As Emelyn, age 14, wrote: “I know making racism and discrimination go away completely isn’t possible, but… These stories could motivate people to vote because when they read them, they can feel empathy and want to make their lives better.”
At 826 Valencia, we believe a patriotic education means equipping our students with writing and critical thinking skills that empower them to share their stories, to engage in our democracy, and to ultimately build a more just, empathetic nation through the power of their voices. What could be more patriotic than that?
As we prepare for an historic election on November 3, we hope you’ll draw encouragement from our incredible students. Our youth can’t yet participate in the patriotic duty of voting, but their engagement in our democracy is leading the way forward.
Volunteers and donors make our work possible — learn more and get involved at 826valencia.org.