Making Transit Equity a RealiTEA
Transit equity has continued to be an issue not just for Colorado youth, but around the country. Who knew that middle school students would be among the leaders to pave the way for a major transit equity win! This past fall of 2018, the RTD Board voted yes in favor of a youth pass program that allows for a 70% discounted pass for students. You can read more about it here: https://denverite.com/2018/09/19/rtd-board-of-directors-approves-fare-hikes-and-discounts-for-low-income-riders/.
While this is a major win for youth and our communities, what often goes unseen is the behind the scenes knowledge and inner-reflections of youth’s activism. Young Aspiring Americans for Social and Political Activism (YAASPA) is an organization that works with youth in the areas of academic and career efficacy, civic literacy, civic engagement, and racial identity development. Benedict, Jessica, Jennifer, Phoebe, and Victoria are youth who started working on transit equity in 8th grade with YAASPA and experienced this advocacy win as 10th grade students in high school.
What follows is an interview style story youth shared at our MLK Youth Forum in partnership with the Aurora NAACP. The MLK Youth Forum happens every January the Saturday before MLK Day. The interview below reflects how and why they persisted over two years to see this transit equity victory to the end.
1) Why did you decide to join YAASPA in building and deepening your civic engagement?
Youth join YAASPA in a myriad of ways from our programs to issue work. Students share wanting to join YAASPA because:
I wanted to join YAASPA because I thought it would be a fun and interesting way to learn more about how politics work.
I joined YAASPA because I thought it would be a great way to start extracurricular activities and be involved in my community
I joined YAASPA because I wanted to engage more in my community and became interested when Mrs. Mackey came to my school
I joined YAASPA because I thought it would be a great way for me to be involve my community.
2) What made you decide to join the fight for transit equity?
I wanted to join and fight for transit equity because I saw this problem first hand and what to help fix it.
I decided to fight for transit equity because I saw how it affected people during the School Choice Process and wanted to help make it easier. I also kept in mind that whatever I do now will have a positive or negative effects on the future generation.
I saw the situation as something unfair and knew right away that I had to get involved in the process. Not everyone has access to activist groups like YAASPA, I saw it as my responsibility to speak for others who couldn’t.
I wanted to fight for transit equity because I saw a lot of my fellow peers School Choice Process get affect because a regular DPS bus didn’t go to the school that they wanted to go. I also wanted to be a part of it cause at that time I was considering going to a school that required me to take a city bus and money was an issue.
I want to fight for transit equity because it is a part of my everyday life and I see other people have problems with it and I wanted to help.
3) As a part of this win, you all had to testify to the RTD board to advocate for the youth pass. How did you prepare to present public comment to the RTD board?
I wrote down my experience and practiced it many times.
I wrote down my personal experience and got feedback it. Although I was nervous at first about speaking in front of a crowd, I can definitely say that this experience has improved my public speaking skills tremendously.
I spoke from experience and of peers’ experiences also. I just put down my thoughts and observations on paper and later revised them and made sure that the message I wanted to give out was included in my testimony.
I wrote down what I felt was important for the RTD board to hear from my experience and from my peers and I got feedback on how to improve my statements.
I wrote and practiced my experience that I have when I take the RTD and practiced it.
4) What advice would you give other students who would like to make their voices heard by boards like RTD?
Try and find an organization like YAASPA and go to a meeting and voice your opinions.
Don’t ever think that your voice is too small, your voice is powerful because if we all believe that are voices are too small, our lives would be chosen for us.
Step out of your comfort zone, you won’t regret it. Take advantage of access to activist groups if you have it.
I think that it’s important to emphasize the importance of your voice and to take advantage of it. Also, know that when you see that there is something up with the way things are done, that you should voice out your opinions, in the most respectful way, instead of waiting for someone else to do it. Make a change in your community by getting involved with organizations that supports your statements.
That they should not be scared to be heard and that they should know that they change make a big change in this world with small steps at a time
5) What made you stay engaged over two years to fight for the RTD youth pass?
I honestly believe that we can make a change now since all the people have been elected and they can bring forth change.
I would keep my eye out for any updates and messages of our next update. I didn’t want the hard work I did in the beginning of our project to go to waste, once I start something I make sure I finish it.
Knowing that if our voices were heard, we’d be able to get reduced passes, motivated me to continue with the project.
I kept contact with Janiece Mackey, who for the past two years have helped me stay engaged to the fight for the RTD youth pass. I also stayed engaged by keeping my head up for any changes to the RTD youth passes.
Because I know how it’s like taking the RTD and I know others around me had some of the terrible experiences I had to encounter as well.
6) How does it feel to have fought for a policy and to win as a high school student?
It makes me feel accomplished like our voices were heard and actually implement and taken seriously. It’s also a driving force and makes me want to go out and,bring more people to solve more problems.
It feels amazing because we have been fighting for this since the eighth grade and now as a sophomore in High School, it has finally been passed which makes me very proud.
It reminds me of how much the youth of today can do with our voices and only encourages me to continue to use it. The feeling of knowing that I helped with the process alone and am standing up for what I believe in alone continues to motivate me.
It makes me feel like my voice have been heard and that my voice does matters. The feeling of knowing that i fought for a policy and won makes me feel so much joy and gives me a motivation to do more.
It makes me feel great about myself.
While policy wins are important, they are not the end goal of youth activism. The developmental process of youth activism plays a major role in what success looks like for youth. To continue to create awareness of this work, YAASPA will conduct a pilot in partnership with the Donnell Kay foundation and Aurora Public Schools to continue the fight for transit equity.
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