An Interview with Joseph Sanberg

YCA recently interviewed entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist Joseph Sanberg. We discussed his background, the work he has done to help others in his home state of California, and the importance of young people being involved in their communities.

Can you provide some background information on yourself (where you grew up, what experiences have brought you to where you are today, etc)?

My mom raised me in Orange County, California.  Like so many in my generation, my mom raised me by herself with help from my grandparents (her parents).  My father bullied my mom and our families in so many ways. Ultimately, he drove my mom and us deep into financial crises that ended with our losing our home to foreclosure. Through it all, though, my mom always turned us toward helping others.  As long as I can remember, my mom always emphasized that our purpose in life is to do everything we can to help others and help those who are in trouble and in need.  

How has the work you have done through CalEITC4Me helped families, especially young families, in California?

The biggest thing that has changed since I was a kid 30 years ago (I’m 38) is that it’s harder than ever for working families in California to afford life’s basic needs.  There are more moms like mine who are working hard yet struggle paycheck to paycheck.  The reality of California is far from the progressive rhetoric you hear on TV or read on Twitter.  1 of 5 Californians live in poverty.  Another 1 of 5 Californians live near poverty.  And 3 of 4 Californians couldn’t handle a $700 surprise expense.  That means 3 of 4 Californians are a small health problem away from financial crisis.  

Most people who are working can’t afford life’s basic needs.  It shouldn’t be that way.  Everyone who works should be able to afford life’s basic needs.  

Our mission with CalEITC4Me is to make work pay better.  During the past 3 years as I’ve traveled throughout California and spent time with families we serve, I’ve heard first hand stories so similar to what my mom experienced when she was raising me and working to provide for our family.  These aren’t just stories of dollars and cents, they are stories of single moms and kids who don’t get to spend time together because of the burden of working multiple jobs that pay too low wages.

Let this be clear: it doesn’t have to be this way.  We absolutely can create a future where everyone who works can afford life’s basic needs.  We have to make work pay and we have to make life’s basic needs affordable.  There are many smart policies that can create that kind of future like a minimum wage that equals a living wage, more Earned Income Tax Credit and Medicare For All.

Why do you believe making positive investments in your community, financially and by volunteering, is so important? What are some of the best ways for young people to improve their communities?

I think we each have a special responsibility in our lives to do as much as we can to help others.  Imagine the world if each of us focused on what we could do to help others in trouble and in need.  The path out of the current mess in our world is focusing on helping others.  We need to create a culture of service that honors helping others rather than obsesses over instant fame and gratification.  As Bobby Kennedy said, “GDP measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

The best ways to help others and your community really depend on the needs in your community and the problems that your friends and neighbors are experiencing.  Helping others begins by taking the time to listen to and understand others. So, the first step in improving your community is to understand what your community needs.

Would you ever run for public office? If you would, why?

I think we should each serve where we are needed throughout our lives.  I would consider running for public office if at some point that would be the best way for me to serve and help others.

Why should young people participate in politics and what are the benefits of their involvement?

There are many meaningful ways to serve and help others.  Politics is one of the ways to help solve big problems.  There are so many problems in our world today that we have to use every way available to fix things.  That means we have to participate in politics, community service, treating others kindly during our daily lives and everything in between.  

Thank you to Joseph Sanberg for sharing his insights!


Written by Kate Canavan

YCA Editor-in-Chief


An Interview with Nadya Okamoto: Candidate for Cambridge City Council and Harvard Student

An Interview with Nadya Okamoto: Candidate for Cambridge City Council and Harvard Student

We recently interviewed Nadya Okamoto, a Harvard sophomore who has dedicated herself to important causes since she was a teenager, and is now running for a seat on the Cambridge City Council. Okamoto is clear proof that youth are capable of having a tremendous impact on their communities and on the world.

Image Courtesy of Nadya Okamoto

Can you provide some information on your background (hometown, education, etc)?

I am running for young people to have direct representation and trust in their government, for family struggling to secure affordable and stable housing, for equitable opportunities in education and employment, and progress towards more sustainable living.

I am a sophomore at Harvard College and current candidate for Cambridge City Council. I am the Founder and Executive Director of PERIOD, a global organization providing and celebrating menstrual hygiene through advocacy, education, and service. I founded PERIOD when I was 16-years-old after our family experienced living without a home of our own. Since its founding in 2014, the organization has addressed almost 110,000 periods and have registered over 100 campus chapters. I am also the co-founder of E Pluribus, a post-partisan media platform that engages young people in discussions around issues that they truly care about, and pushes them to take action.

I grew up thinking of Cambridge as a home since my godmother lives here (I was born in NYC), and growing up we visited at least once or twice a year. Cambridge was a home when I wasnʼt really sure what home was, especially with growing up with a bit of housing and financial instability, and domestic violence between my parents.

Cambridge is facing issues now that are challenging this city being a stable “home” for many of its residents — because the city is too expensive to live in and its localism is constantly being threatened. I want to fight for this city to be home to whomever wishes to call it that, regardless of their socioeconomic status, racial identity, or place of origin. My personal connection and commitment to the issues that this city faces, paired with my belief that I add a very unique and much- needed perspective and energy to the City Council is what has pushed me to run for office here in 2017.

Why do you believe it is important for students to be represented on local city councils?

I am running for City Council in a city where over 35% of the demographic is under the age of 25 and over 34% of the adult population is enrolled in university, yet we have never had student or youth representation on council — and I think it is time for that to change.

Representative democracy is important because we need to have elected officials that can truly empathize with their constituents — I believe that this applies on a base of race, gender, socioeconomic status, and even age. In a world where over half of our population is made up of women, we need to have more women in politics — especially surrounding discussions about reproductive rights, family health care, parental leave, and equal opportunities. It is unacceptable that right now, less than 20% of government positions are held by women in the United States, and by encouraging more young women to see a career in politics as an option, and not only pushing women to run, but also supporting them to win, we can change that.

How have you balanced your responsibilities as a student with the demands of running for office?

I have been able to find balance in everything I am involved in because I truly believe in all that I do – from the Menstrual Movement to this fight for economic diversity in Cambridge, my heart and soul are in this. This does not even feel like work to me most of the time. I believe so wholeheartedly in these causes and this platform that this feels like what I am meant to do with my voice.

What are some of the main issues you hope to address if elected? How do you believe your unique perspective as a student will help you in achieving these goals?

My top three priorities are housing affordability, education equity, and sustainable living — with an overarching goal to fight to protect economic diversity. I truly believe that on all issues Cambridge is facing, with a need to fine solutions in urban planning to climate change preparedness, we have a huge opportunity to work more closely with community-minded university relations. I believe that as a student, with that fundamental relationship with the university here (including Harvard and MIT and Lesley), I am in a unique position to do this very effectively while also engaging an unprecedented level of civic engagement from this city’s younger demographic.

If I were to be elected, my top priority would be housing affordability. I would do this through multiple pathways: (1) through enforcing the 20% inclusionary zoning of affordable housing units in new real estate developments; (2) pushing the council to actually invest in building more affordable housing for the purposes of affordability – we have an Affordable Housing Trust that we could be improving much more; and (3) really pushing forward more community-minded university relations in this well-known college town. This starts with advocating for universities to meet 100% of the demand for graduate student housing since the majority of them currently live off-campus due to the affordability, accessibility, and availability in the first place. Doing this would open up over 9,500 units that are currently short-term rentals to students, to instead be long-term solutions for Cambridge families.


Connect with Nadya Here!

Official Campaign Video!


Campaign Kickoff Video!



Endorsement of Tay Anderson for Denver School Board District 4 Representative

Youth Caucus of America, Inc. is proud to say “We Stand With Tay!” YCA believes that Tay Anderson would be an effective advocate for public education. As a recent graduate of the Denver public school system and his expansive knowledge on education and student issues that face the Colorado public school system today; Anderson will bring a new in depth perspective to the school board. Anderson seeks to renew Denver Public School’s lunch program, fight for comprehensive preventative programs for unaccompanied youth, and invest in our educators to create a dynamic and rich learning environment. Anderson’s stances are very much in alignment with the goals of Youth Caucus of America’s Education Policy Committee which believes in investing in educators for a more sound learning environment and improving quality lunch programs. By standing with Tay, students in the Denver school system will receive the support and educational tools that they need to be successful, something YCA believes every student deserves the opportunity to have. For these reasons, YCA endorses Tay Anderson for Denver School Board District 4 representative.


Why this 28-Year-Old is Running for Congress: An Interview with Ammar Campa-Najjar of California’s 50th District

Photo: Ammar Campa-Najjar

Ammar Campa-Najjar is not a typical politician. This 28-year-old San Diego native is running in the Democratic primary to represent California’s 50th district in the House of Representatives. His work for for President Obama’s 2012 campaign, President Obama’s administration, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Department of Labor, and running his own business has helped him to develop the skills and experience necessary to serve as a member of Congress. In the first four months of his candidacy, he raised more money than all other Democratic primary candidates combined, as well as the Republican incumbent, all through grassroots donations. Campa-Najjar recently spoke with YCA and offered some valuable insight regarding his experience as a young person running for office.

Campa-Najjar was largely inspired by President Obama to run for office, not only because of their shared political leanings, but because they had similar experiences early in life as young biracial men (Campa-Najjar is Hispanic and Arab) raised by single mothers. Campa-Najjar noted, “I always wondered if this country would ever accept somebody like me and allow me to achieve my dreams…and in ’08, the country said ‘yes we can’.” He went on to work on President Obama’s 2012 campaign and later in the White House.

There are a lot of young people working in government in D.C., and Campa-Najjar recommended that young people take the skills and knowledge gained from working in our capital and go back home to help their own communities. This is exactly what he has done. After the 2016 election, the dedicated volunteers he knew from his time as an organizer in 2012 encouraged him to come back to San Diego and run for office. He decided to run “to bring that youthful, innovative, creative perspective to Washington.”

Photo: Ammar Campa-Najjar

Campa-Najjar also had some advice for politically active youth. He said, “never underestimate the value of a good education.” If you want to become politically active, it not only starts with education in school, but gaining valuable life experience as well. For example, Campa-Najjar worked in a church for three years, which helped him to develop valuable skills and a sense of community. He also noted that a great experience for young people is interning on Capitol Hill for a member of Congress, but that opportunity is impossible for many students who cannot afford to spend a summer in D.C. without pay. Campa-Najjar plans to pay his interns a fair wage so all young people from his district can intern on the Hill and use what they learned to help their own communities afterwards.

Young people running for office often face unique challenges. “I have had to work so hard to be perceived as equal to the other challengers,” Campa-Najjar said. He advised young people looking to run for office gain practical experience relevant to public service, and work hard to prove they are qualified, capable, and dedicated. He said, “despite your youth, get that experience so that no one can challenge you.”  Although being a young candidate can be difficult, Campa-Najjar recommended to “use it as a strength.”  He noted, “when you’re young they’re going to underestimate you…let them do that. Because all you can do is surpass expectations, if you’re prepared.”

Thank you to Ammar Campa-Najjar for taking the time to share his story and serving as an amazing example for young people looking to make a difference!

Connect with the Campa-Najjar campaign here!





By Kate Canavan, Editor-in-Chief

Youth Stand Against Violent White Nationalism in Virginia

In light of the recent display of violence by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, two college sophomores organized a community event in Arlington, Virginia on Sunday, August 13 with over 200 attendees. Julian Lopez-Leyva and YCA staffer Justin Wu facilitated this gathering to stand in solidarity with those affected by the “alt-right” rioters in Charlottesville. Although many American young people never expected to witness such open expression of racism and nazism in their lifetimes, students like Wu and Lopez-Leyva have been instrumental in showing that this injustice should not and will not be tolerated in American society.

Julian Lopez-Leyva delivered a powerful speech at the event:

If I could circumscribe the term “Enough,” so bold it is, with a point in time, it would be today; the immediate, right-nowness of this moment. I do not sweat and I do not doubt that this moment will rock so softly on by. Because in the broad brush of American history, there have been several instances of great women and men who have, at their great moments in time, declared, like you and I, “enough.” Names and faces whose actions were immortalized in the American psyche, from Cesar Chavez to Martin Luther King; from Susan B. Anthony to Rosa Parks. Hundreds, if not thousands of others have moved to unify, not divide. In times of great crises, under unimaginable pain, flaring emotions, and loss of life. These men and women stood up, and in possessed resilience, did not rest until a new day had come, and that new day was brighter than the one just before it.

Charlottesville allows us to recognize the wars we still fight, and have been fighting in this climbing vine of history. I see wars of varying proportions, fought physically and verbally, both on and off American soil. Crime epidemics; hostage crises; President Nixon’s War on Drugs; the Cold War; the odd amnesia of the Korean War; the two World Wars, bridged by America’s Great Depression. But, stretching beyond the breadth of a century, we meet perhaps the most reverberant of all national crises: the American Civil War. This was a war for the literal liberty of men, the sanctity of life, and the unity of our country. But my friends I fear that we have entered another civil war, and one which many a historian could aptly connect to the insolvency of the last one. For we too fight for the liberty of men, and the sanctity of life and the unity of country, we fight now, an American Moral Civil War.

To see videos and images of their barbarity in Charlottesville, playing out under our sweet Virginia skies, reminds me of places and times I never was.

We are not so unlike each other.

What tragedy transpired in Charlottesville last night was abominable, but what is more abominable than that is how we, as a country, have so suddenly found ourselves here, and allowed ourselves to get here. We have, as a people seemingly united, set our corners and played only the grounds we know. We recoiled from the stranger and subsumed into the familiar loneliness of our own respective crowds. And in some great fear of losing our way, we have lost our way. Now I stand firmly in defense of free speech, even hate speech; but I will erase from this earth before I stand in defense of violence. Violence is the antithesis of this American way, yet it has found itself, so slimy, seeping into the mind of our national psyche and into the veins of our most frightened, confused and disillusioned fellow citizens. Charlottesville was a testament to that, but it wasn’t the first. But if we have anything to say about it, and we truly act to cooperate relentlessly in civility and compassion, I promise you brothers and sisters that it may very well be the last.

But in the videos and photographs published over the course of the last few days, we have seen some of the hollow faces of hatred. But we must not neglect the pervasiveness of hatred, which reaps good souls and stales loving hearts. And although hatred is not the entirety of a person, be weary, for its strain breathes so heavy at the neck of our neighbors, our countrymen, our politicians, even ourselves. Let us be resolute in confronting it, both between others and within the dimensions of our minds. Through gentle gestures of kindness and compassion can we finally find a country unified, bent away from the tendrils of madness. But for now, in addressing the multi-faceted face of bigotry, violence and hatred, I must echo in the words of our governor, “Go home. You are not wanted in this great Commonwealth … there is no place for you here, and there is no place for you in America.”

Let us rush and run to backyard sheds, to find our gloves, and to uproot the odd seeds of anger. Because on the fertile soil, stuck cement and senatorial chambers, it is action, not apathy, that flowers a brighter world. Through substantive legislation we must do away with economic inequality, which knocks at the doors of every neighborhood this country bears. Do away with our broken criminal justice system, which cages approximately one of every one-hundred ten adults, disproportionately vicious to black and brown communities. Act against drug and alcohol abuse, which tears apart families and devastates communities. Invest again in equal access to education, because our children will come to inherit the earth. And rediscover the potential in our bare humanity; finding power not in pride and products, but in the depth of our words and the endurance of our actions. Confront the disillusioned, philosophize with the homeless and attend to the lonely. I sustain as an impermeable truth that we must come to find: the answer is not up in the sky, grown in the ground, or even in a book. The answer is in other people.

The condition we exist in; the human condition – has unrelenting potential. Let us the means to seek it!

We who have lifted from the ground and out the cave. Who have found the forces of fire, gas, and electricity. Who of ripe soils harvested great crop: the lifeline to the vastness of our human kind.

We who have braved the hopeless oceans, the highest mountains and the driest deserts. Who from these terrible terrains set down adobe, brick and wood to bear our children, play our cards and ease our old.

We who have founded academies, cemented law, cured diseases, erected pulpits of international cooperation, climbed the skies and stabbed at the realm of space.

And so our invulnerable intellectual and organizational capacities must be kindled, not condemned. And to kindle them is to look at your brother or your sister from every color and creed, every political slant and economic circumstance. From the Baltimore blocks to the San Diego ‘burbs, from the shacks that line the Mississippi delta to the mansions that curve the Massachusetts cape. From sea to shining sea, and see in them the propensity to achieve, the capacity to understand; see in the twinkling blinks of their multi-colored eyes: see yourself.


Interview with Suzanna Shkreli

Suzanna Shkreli is an Assistant Prosecutor of the Child Protection Unit in Michigan. While prosecuting crimes of physical and sexual abuse committed against children, Suzanna aimed to do more than just prosecute those crimes, and had dreams of passing preventative legislation. In 2016, as one of 61 Obama endorsed candidates, she ran for the U.S. House of Representatives at the age of 29. Shkreli is a first generation American of Albanian origin, with her family immigrating from Montenegro in the 1970’s, she was born and raised in Michigan. In 2016 she would take the political stage by running for the U.S. House of Representatives to represent the 8th Congressional District of Michigan against Republican incumbent Mike Bishop. Shkreli received 39.2% of the vote in just four months of campaigning. Despite her loss to long-time incumbent, it hasn’t stopped her from serving her community and the youth that are affected by heinous crimes. Suzanna is a role model for youth in politics and a perfect candidate spotlight for YCA.

Q: As a younger individual in the political game, what did you find to be some of the advantages and disadvantages of your age in your House of Representatives race?

A: Running for Congress as a 29 year-old woman during the very divisive 2016 election posed some disadvantages. With Hillary at the top of the ticket, it was very clear that even the most experienced of female candidates would still be doubted in their abilities to govern. Being a younger woman, made it even more difficult. That extra layer of scrutiny exists with young women where it may not exist elsewhere. Additionally, I had never sought or served in public office, so I felt like an outsider most of the time, which I think in this political climate is an advantage. On the other hand, the advantages of being young heavily outweighed the disadvantages. Despite some who have the opinion that young candidates may lack life experience to effectively server, there are just as many people who are refreshed that young people want to run and serve their communities.
I truly believe that being a youthful candidate is a quality, and a natural advantage in creating excitement and momentum in a campaign. Young candidates are fun to support; we are inspiring because our passion shines through. We have hunger and clear vision of what we want to achieve. We are progressive, inclusive, and relatable.
On the trail, I was able to listen to many young students explain their concerns about affording college and graduate school. They also expressed how they wanted to stay in Michigan but feared they couldn’t find employment post-graduation. I spoke to young professionals who shared their frustration with me, they are worried because their student loans are just as or more expensive as their mortgage. We discussed how difficult it is to get our lives started and try to raise a family when we are living under a mountain of student debt. We talked about public loan forgiveness, and discussed potential legislation I could champion that would allow students to refinance their student loans. Additionally, as a sexual assault prosecutor, I was in a unique position to discuss my experiences with sexual assault culture and the ways we could advocate for prevention and encourage victims to come forward and report their assaults on college campuses.
My advice to young candidates is to embrace your youth, don’t try to hide from it, use it for the bright and refreshing quality that it is.  

Q: Although your race didn’t have the desired outcome, how did it feel to be able to garner the support of almost 150,000 people in your district? What do you attribute much of that success to?

A: Considering I only had four months to try and do what most candidates do in 18 months, it felt good that our message resonated with so many people in Michigan’s 8th District. Although we fell short, it was by far the most rewarding experience of my life and it has transformed me for the better. Even now, when I see voters out in the community they thank me for running and giving them hope. I won’t even try to describe how that feels to me.
I think we were able to garner so many votes not only because our message resonated so well, but we had such a groundswell of support and an incredible grassroots movement.  With tens of thousands of individual contributions, and thousands of volunteers who helped us knock doors and make calls, we were able to generate some incredible momentum that led to the endorsement of President Barack Obama – which will remain one of the proudest moments of my life.
Jumping into a race with only four months to run, was a bold move to make. I didn’t know what to expect and I received a lot of mix reactions. There were many naysayers, but I did not let them distract me. Some moments were harder than others, but I always remembered who and what this fight was for, and that was all I needed to refocus myself and keep on. I didn’t take on this race to make a name for myself. I ran to win, and that’s the only type of candidate and Representative that the people of Michigan’s 8th district deserve – someone to fight for them.

Q: Do you have any advice for young people, particularly young women, trying to get into politics?

A: Get in and run. Democracy is not a spectator sport, we owe it to ourselves and to each other to get in the fight to help shape a better tomorrow, and to stand up for ideas that are inclusive and will move this country forward. That can’t happen if we aren’t part of the conversation. As women, historically, it has been easier to find reasons why we shouldn’t run instead of focusing on the reasons why we should. We always tend to be hard on ourselves – it’s only when we know everything about everything that we feel truly ready to run. You’re ready to run now. No one is going to come knocking on your door telling you it’s time. If not now then when? Remember, when you do decide to run, you will have women across your communities, state, and the country helping you win.

Growing up, I remember giving a lot of reverence to public office, and in that respect, I placed people elected to public office on a pedestal. Becoming a Congresswoman was seemingly impossible in my mind. Usually, the elected officials I encountered were white males, and I never saw myself reflected in my representation. We need our next generation of girls and boys, of any race or creed growing up wanting to be Mayor, Judge, United States Senator, or even the President, and to truly believe that they can be just that.

Additionally, I want you to know that there were many times on the campaign trail where I felt blown away at the possibility that it could be me serving Michigan’s 8th District, and I always felt that I wouldn’t be lucky enough. Perhaps in a different year, I will be lucky enough, but what I find valuable in that type of thinking is that our Representatives should always carry within them a deep sense of humility in the positions they hold. They need to always feel grateful to be where they are, and to continually recognize that it’s not about them, the individual who is serving, but that it is about the people they serve.    

Q: Which of your platforms do you think most advocated for the next generation?

A: I campaigned heavily on college affordability. As a product of Michigan’s public schools and universities, I believe very strongly that not only must we provide access to quality education from pre-k until graduation, but we must make college and higher education more affordable for everyone who wants to earn a college degree.

I also fought to make community colleges and trade schools more accessible for those who want to improve their skills. I advocated for students to be able to refinance their student loans, so they can start their lives and invest in Michigan without drowning in debt. Additionally, I advocated for investment and full development in our renewable energy sources so we could move closer to full energy independence. This will make it more cost effective to make products here in Michigan. By utilizing new technology and reconfiguring our energy sources, our state can create new good-paying jobs and serve as an example on combatting climate change without sacrificing economic growth.

Shkreli is a true inspiration for young people interested in politics.  With only a few months she garnered 40% of voter support, received a presidential endorsement, and moved the needle forward on important youth issues. We wish Suzanna the best of luck in all of her future endeavors, thank her for her time and imparting wisdom, and look forward to seeing her back in the political arena in the near future.

Written by: Delaney Hellman, YCA Treasurer


Eloisa Melendez: 23-Year-Old Councilwoman from Norwalk, CT

Eloisa Melendez is a 23 year old member of the city council in Norwalk, CT. She was first elected at the age of 19, and is up for re-election this fall. We spoke with Melendez about her experiences as a young politician, and the importance of young people becoming involved in local politics.

She noted that, unlike federal politics, local politics tends to be less divisive. It is easier to work across the aisle because of a lack of partisan issues. Additionally, it is much easier to work with constituents directly when serving at the local level.

“It’s a lot easier to work really closely with constituents; obviously if you are elected to higher office you have a lot of staff…but as a councilmember, my constituents are my neighbors…it’s a lot easier to just grab a coffee with someone, hear them out, and work with them that way,” Melendez said.

She noted that the lack of involvement in local politics, especially involvement with the city council, can be very problematic, especially with the strong-council and weak-mayor system of Norwalk in which the council approves the actions of the mayor, but “every single election the mayor gets the most votes out of anyone.”

“There is this disconnect for some reason, and it’s actually really unfortunate because local politics…that’s where you really see things happen around you.”

For young people looking to become more politically active, Melendez noted that “You don’t have to be elected to be involved in politics.” Being civically engaged does not always mean running for office, although that is definitely an effective method.


“It’s important to really get a grasp on what is going on so you can actually be effective.” Understanding the problems members of your local community are facing is essential in being effective in your political involvement, especially since oftentimes young people are criticized for not fully understanding the issues the community is facing.

When first elected at age 19, she was very aware of her young age in her role as a council member. When she recognized that she “was elected in the same way that [her] colleagues were,” she began to utilize her unique perspective in making decisions. For example, when voting on certain issues, she often considers the long-term effects of implementing certain policies more carefully than some of the older members of the council.

She also emphasized the importance of having a good balance of elected officials. For issues based on votes that happened many years ago, it is helpful to have the perspective of more experienced members, but having fresh perspectives from young people is also important.

“We have to learn from our elders, but they have to learn from us too.”

By Kate Canavan



An Interview with Joe Dillard

Joe Dillard of Norfolk, Virginia is a candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates and was the youngest NAACP chapter president in the United States in 2014. We recently interviewed him about his unique experiences as a politically active young person; he has valuable advice to offer to other young people hoping to follow in his footsteps.

Have you faced any unique challenges as a young person running for the Virginia House of Delegates?

Yes. I think, as a young person, a lot of times you have to prove yourself before you introduce yourself. Working in Norfolk has provided me a great opportunity to do so.  Here we’re always challenged to be and do as opposed to say and promise. Our people are short on time and big on follow through.

The unique challenge of finding ways to communicate what you want for Norfolk and getting people on board is challenging for anyone. We all want to go into the next administration of Virginia with more jobs, better schools and safer neighborhoods. As a millennial, I sometimes feel I have to go the extra mile to prove that I’m not here for the consolation prize. I’m here to bring the grit and resolve it takes to be at the forefront of urban cities. And I find that the more people I talk to, the more I feel Norfolk wants that.

I’ve also always been the oldest sibling of five. I think most people who know my two younger brothers and two younger sisters know I involuntarily grew up fast.

What will be some of your legislative priorities in the House of Delegates?

Better neighborhoods and rebuilding Infrastructure. We’re an old city, but that should be a strength not a liability.  Plumbing, streets, schools and parks aren’t glamorous subjects – but they’re vital elements to the health and future of our city.  Infrastructure is also complicated, expensive and we can’t expect to do it alone.  When Virginia passed laws decades ago that resulted in the defined city we have today, the state promised not to abandon the older cities.  I plan to be a constant advocate for Norfolk in that regard. I want to bring investment to Norfolk that builds a better Norfolk. We can only do that by getting people on board with the vision we have for the future of Norfolk and South Hampton Roads as a whole. We face environmental challenges and sea level rise.  Those solutions are found in collaborations with local, state and federal partners. We weren’t named one of Rockefeller Foundation’s Top 100 Resilient cities as a civic exercise. We have to work well with others. Our economic realities as a nation are changing quicker than we can hashtag them, and I want those looking to invest in a thriving city to know that Norfolk is at the forefront of that idea.

Secondly, building better neighborhoods encompasses everything that motivated me to get involved in community engagement. Norfolk is not alone in facing hurdles that challenge many urban cities across America. Violence too common and we bury too many of our young people. I cannot turn a blind eye to my neighbor’s suffering.  I will work to make our streets safer and our schools better equipped to bring forth the next generation.

In 2014 you became the youngest NAACP president in the United States. What are some areas of policy for which you believe that youth and racial issues intersect?

The issues involving race relations and injustice in America transcend all age groups. The challenge for my generation is take up the issues and continue in the hard work that still needs to be done.

Our socioeconomic reality may be better than it was when the NAACP was formed in 1909, but with a century of work behind us we still have not achieved equality or even parity.  Black youth still find it harder to get jobs in the summer.  Statistically our young people are not gaining important workforce skills on par with the rest of their peers. We are still challenged in getting our young people to seize the opportunities that can exist if they strive for them.

Also, racial injustice grows when we fail to hold our leadership and ourselves accountable.  In the Norfolk Chapter of the NAACP we have been challenging our youth to do more politically, and the results have been showing, but the level of civic engagement in the black community – regardless of generation – still needs to grow and develop.

From your experience in politics, what are some of the best ways for young people to become more politically active?

First, young people need to learn the process.  The rules are there for a reason.  Everyone needs to learn the rules so they can work within the process to hold leadership accountable and affect change.  Young people also need to be more steadfast in communicating priorities to their elected officials. One thing that troubles me is how often our youth don’t even know who’s representing them, and who is functioning as their voice with regard to their concerns.  To achieve your goals you have to let people know what those goals are and you have to ask the people who are in a position to help. The more we can get young people to understand their role in the political system and how important it is to use the tools of a constituent to demand results, the sooner we will see increase equality in access to education, workforce and healthcare opportunities.

You can connect with Joe here:


Instagram: @dillardjoejr

Twitter: @joedillardjr



Interview by Kate Canavan


An Interview with John Mace McGrath: Organizer for the Trump 2016 Presidential Campaign

Recently, we interviewed John Mace McGrath from Fort Worth, TX. He is currently a senior at Trinity Christian Academy, and will be attending The Citadel this fall. McGrath served as the Texas State Director, and later Southwest U.S. Regional Director of “Students for Trump” during the 2016 Presidential election, as well as a co-chair for the Texas Congressional District 12 race. We spoke with McGrath about his experience as a young person involved in Presidential politics, including his work with social media, phone calling, and “pavement politics” (he knocked on over 2,000 doors over the primary and general elections!).  

What motivated you to become involved in political organizing at such a young age?

I felt that politics was a calling, and I had the gall to say something, while many of my peers don’t have the will or ability to do it themselves. I was excited, and a little unsure of myself when I took a position at Students for Trump, but it turned out to be a very wise decision.  

What do you think is the best way for young people to stay involved in politics now that election season is over?

Social media is very important in keeping people engaged with what’s going on in the world. Young people can begin researching how a particular area voted in the last election, and work to improve on those results or change them.

What was the most difficult aspect of working on a presidential campaign at such a relatively young age?

Most people at an older age usually laughed me off, often thinking I didn’t know what I was doing, and in most cases, they told me, “Trump isn’t going to win”.

Why do you believe young people being involved in politics is so important?

Unfortunately, not enough young people are engaging in the political process, and I feel it’s necessary to have the conversation with young people and encourage them to be as active as possible. Whether that would be pavement politics, community organizing, or just going to the voting booth, I feel the values of millennials is sorely underrepresented.

What were your favorite and least favorite experiences from working on the Trump campaign?

My least favorite experience when working in the campaign was the night we lost Texas to Ted Cruz in the Republican Primary. I had put a lot of time and effort in the Dallas Fort-Worth area knocking on doors and making phone calls, but we lost it to Texas’ favorite son, Ted Cruz.

My favorite experience working for the campaign was when I had the opportunity to drive Mr. Trump’s family to a debate venue in Charleston, SC. I drove Mr. Trump’s wife, Melania, his daughter Ivanka, and her husband, Jared. It was a surreal experience and now that he is president, I will not have the opportunity to do that ever again.

Thank you to John Mace McGrath for taking the time to talk about his experience as a youth involved with President Trump’s campaign!
Written by Kate Canavan


Erin Schrode: Trailblazer for Youth Activism


Erin Schrode is the co-founder of the non-profit Turning Green. She is also a former Congressional candidate, a journalist, and an activist—and she’s only 25! Erin shows the importance of young people becoming involved in civic activism. We recently spoke with her about some of the issues she cares about, the best ways for young people to become involved in politics, and how social media will influence advocacy and journalism in the coming years.

Erin has dedicated tremendous effort to environmental reform. She noted that so many of the problems our world faces seem daunting and overwhelming, so she recommended finding ways to help the environment on a “life style basis.” One of the best ways to reduce our environmental impact is to consider aspects of our day-to-day life that could be improved, “find those places, and implement solutions.”

Erin has been particularly dedicated to fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline—an oil pipeline which has been met with strong opposition by Native Americans in the region, environmentalists, and other coalition groups. At one point, she was shot by a rubber bullet when she was reporting on the peaceful protests occurring in North Dakota. Today, she is feeling much better and plans on returning to Standing Rock. She strongly feels that the opposition to the DAPL is “the fight of our lives.” “It’s the convergence of the environmental movement, of the human rights movement, for peace and justice. It’s about so much more than one pipeline skirting one Native American reservation.”

This is the world that we are going to inherit. This is our future. The decisions being made today will disproportionately affect us, and we deserve a place at that decision-making table.” —Erin Schrode

Erin gained a lot of visibility by running for Congress this year in California’s 2nd district—her home district. She said, “I never saw myself as a politician…still don’t.” However, the lack of representation of young people in Congress motivated her to run. She ran with hopes of “redefining civic engagement, reinvigorating a culture of public service, and expanding the definition of who can be a politician.” Although she did not win her primary election, the experience helped her recognize the importance of not only having more people seeking public service, but encouraging more people to become active citizens and participating in the political process because everyone’s voice should matter.

This message is especially relevant for young people. The decisions being made by elected officials will impact our futures. For youth looking to become involved in politics now that election season is over, Erin suggested becoming involved with activist organizations outside of government, as well as increasing involvement at the grassroots level. She said, “I want to see young people getting involved at the local level in moving policy forward, in working with city council, mayors, governors, state legislature.” Additionally, one of the best ways to make sure youth voices are fairly represented is for young people to seek public office themselves. Erin strongly endorsed this claim by encouraging young people to run. “If you really want to affect change and you have clear policy platforms that you want to deliver upon, run. Make it about the issues, but put yourself out there, because nothing will change if we don’t elect better people to this system.”

The last issue is the expanding role of social media, both in politics and in journalism. In the 2016 Presidential election, the world saw positive and negative elements of social media. Erin herself has been viciously attacked online and believes social media has brought a lot of aggression into the mainstream. She observed that “we haven’t seen a spike in hatred, we’ve seen a spike in people willing to act upon and get behind these bigoted, discriminatory feelings and rhetoric.” However, she also recognizes the benefits of the increased prevalence of social media as a democratizing force, and noted that “we can harness the power to reach out to a wider audience, to share truthful messaging, not false news, and hopefully to activate and inspire more people to become involved offline in the nitty-gritty of the political process.”

Many young people get their news through social media, which also has benefits and drawbacks. Erin noted, “I think that it’s really important to find ways to hold social media and digital journalism to the same standards of integrity as it is with traditional print journalism, but it opens up who can be a journalist to a far wider audience which I think is ultimately good. You have to be more discerning as a consumer of news, as a reader, as a recipient, but you can see a wider breadth of opinions and you can see issues from different perspectives, you can gain greater intimacy with the news of the day with any number of topics, any number of places, any number of fields.”

Thank you to Erin Schrode for taking the time to speak with YCA about her experience as a young political activist and about these important issues.

Connect with Erin Here: Twitter: @erinschrodeInstagram: @erinschrodeFacebook:

By Kate Canavan

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