We’re asked to wait our turn regularly. When we are at an amusement park, we’re asked to wait in line for our turn. When we are at the grocery store, we get a number and are asked to wait our turn to pick out our cold cuts. When we are at the bus station, we are shepherded into a line and informally asked to wait our turn. There are daily asks and reminders for us to wait our turn. But young people are asked to wait their turn regularly, by those insistent that our age defines our competence and ability. If we want to speak up, we are asked to wait our turn. If we want to run for office, we are asked to wait our turn. And even if teens want to vote when they turn eighteen, they are encouraged that they have all the time in the world, and can wait their turn. I don’t know about you, but quite frankly I’m tired of young people being asked to wait their turn for having a seat at the metaphorical table. Our turn is now.
My name is Donya, and I am thrilled to be the 22×20 Campaign’s new Youth Leadership Coordinator. Advocating for, engaging with, and representing youth has been a passion of mine since I was thirteen. I was always told that I was too outspoken for my own good, and didn’t realize it was a strength, rather than a fundamental flaw, until years later. It never occurred to me that I was pulled aside for talking too much, or too loud, or about matters that were beyond my years because I was young and because I was a woman, and furthermore an Iranian-American woman. Young people, and especially girls and women and people of color, are often “encouraged” to refrain from speaking up, drawing attention if you may, as if age serves as this invisible criteria for being qualified to be heard and seen, or not. We are often praised for being more “respectful” when we do not speak out or debate, as if respect and claiming our voices are mutually exclusive. And we are too often told to wait our turn, as if “our turn” is indicated by anything other than lived experience, expertise, perspective, and a passion to be heard.
I am honored to work with the 22×20 Campaign and our inaugural Fellows because I have a firsthand understanding of how important our work at the intersection of teen civic engagement, voting, and media literacy is. Now, more than ever, we need young people to be informed, empowered, and supported so that their voices can be equally heard and represented. I don’t want us to be just a “token anymore”, but a valuable addition to any conversation, decision, and action. Through my work with the United Nations, Planned Parenthood, and various working groups, I have fought for youth to be educated and involved, and am proud to continue that work in conjunction with The LAMP and CIRCLE on the 22×20 Campaign. Our wait is up, and our turn is now.