(Left to Right top) Candice Uy, Chloe Serrano (Left to Right bottom) Katrine Lee, Heather Chen. (Image courtesy of Grace Lee)

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Teens Now: How Generation Z is using its collective voices to drive change

Signs advocating for the reform of the American healthcare system, passionate speeches in front of hundreds of people addressing the racial inequalities of America, hours of phone banking asking neighbors to vote in favor of a proposition: These are just some activities through which Generation Z has shown itself as the home of future leaders…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/leeggrace/" target="_self">Grace Lee</a>

Grace Lee

January 1, 2021

Signs advocating for the reform of the American healthcare system, passionate speeches in front of hundreds of people addressing the racial inequalities of America, hours of phone banking asking neighbors to vote in favor of a proposition: These are just some activities through which Generation Z has shown itself as the home of future leaders of America.

As defined by the Pew Research Center, Generation Z includes individuals born between 1995 and 2009. As the most well-educated and ethnically diverse compared to any previous generation, Generation Z is using its collective voices to drive change. 

A teen climate activist working to rebuild our society

Heather Chen, a 16-year-old junior at Bloomfield Hills High School, works with the Sunrise Movement to stop climate change. The Sunrise Movement, a national youth-led organization, amplifies youth voices to fight the climate crisis. Besides, Sunrisers push for a Green New Deal, work to build political power by supporting progressive candidates and further other movements like March For Our Lives and Dream Defenders.

“The climate crisis is a very intersectional issue,” Chen said. “And involves other things that we really care about in our nation like racial equity, healthcare and education. To me, that’s why I’m in this fight.”

In September 2019, Chen and two of her friends contributed to the International Climate Strikes by leading an environmental strike in their community. The team left school early and went to a community park to host the climate awareness event.

Over 200 community members gathered, and they listened as various students delivered speeches. The preparation for this event took weeks of effort, with the team recruiting speakers, getting proper permits to host the event at the park and making signs.

Chen also made badges for teachers who couldn’t attend the strike.

“I was, honestly, really amazed and excited during the climate strike,” Chen reflected. “There was so much energy in the air and so many people around the county showed up.” 

Last summer, Chen also volunteered as a facilitator for the Sunrise Leadership Program to train middle grade and high school students to create their own chapter of the Sunrise Movement in their areas. She guided 64 students and helped create around 20 new high school chapters.

“It was really exciting. Just building the movement and bringing people into organizing is just something I really like to do and see,” Chen said. 

Because the Sunrise Movement is a primarily youth-led organization, working with the Sunrise movement has allowed Chen to get involved as a climate activist at a young age. Also, this opportunity has given Chen hope as to what climate change really means for our society. 

“Being a part of Sunrise and meeting so many new people really helped me envision what a future with the Green New Deal can look like,” Chen said. “It’s not just about switching to green energy; it’s about creating a society that is just and cares for everybody.” 

A Voice for Sexual Violence Victims and Filipino Americans

Candice Uy, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Southern California runs her own blog, “Dice’s Daily Discussions,” in which she frequently posts essays and poems about sexual violence. Inspired by Chanel Miller, a sexual violence survivor who came out with her autobiography, Uy created this blog in 2019 to give strength to other survivors.

“Back then, [Chanel Miller] was just known as an anonymous Jane Doe, but then in 2018/2019 she came out and put out her testament for her hearing,” Uy said. “I thought that was so powerful in being able to reclaim your story and I wanted to do that for other people.” 

Relating to her passion for helping sexual violence survivors, Uy organized a petition in June demanding justice for sexual violence survivors in the Fullerton Joint Union High School District. The petition has garnered more than 16,000 signatures over the past four months.

In response to this, Fullerton Joint Union High School District Superintendent Dr. Scott Scambray asked students who had been subject to misconduct of any sexual nature to contact their school principal so that the District could take appropriate steps. 

Uy also identifies with the Anakbayan Long Beach organization, a Filipino-American leftist organization that focuses on educating and mobilizing individuals on different issues in the United States and the Philippines. 

Working with this organization, Uy has made phone calls, created graphics to post on social media and petitioned in front of supermarkets.

“I wanted to join [Anakbayan] because I feel like a lot of cultural organizations here focus mainly on a surface level understanding of our culture without really delving into the problems that affect our homelands today,” Uy said. “We try to educate people about the struggles of Filipinos here and back home.”

Uy hopes to continue her social and political activism through these various community outlets. “You could join a community organization like Anakabayan,” she said. “You can volunteer at local homeless shelters or soup kitchens. There are so many communal actions that you must take because, at this point, voting simply isn’t enough.”

A tenth-grade activist mobilizing youth against systematic oppression

Fifteen-year-old Chloe Serrano got introduced to activism in fifth grade when she started learning about gender inequalities in America. Now a sophomore at Fullerton Union High School, Serrano has shifted her focus from advocating for gender equality to fighting systems of oppression and discrimination. 

In June, Serrano gave a speech at a Black Lives Matter protest at Fullerton City Hall. Around 1,500 peaceful protesters gathered as they listened to speakers and raised signs to passing cars. In Serrano’s passionate speech, she affirmed: “The institutionalized racism our country holds is a pandemic itself.”

This work inspired her to co-found “Melanated Youth,” an Orange County-based coalition that gives teenagers the mobility to engage in political activism. Her goal was to give teenagers a chance to use their voice, even if they couldn’t yet use it during elections.

“Right now, our main narrative is to keep the Black Lives Matter movement going,” she said. “We notice a lot of people aren’t active anymore, and we want to make sure it’s still alive especially in our county.” 

Since the eighth grade, Serrano has also worked with the Orange County Youth Voter Coalition to make sure people in Orange County have the appropriate tools to exercise their right to vote. Now, she serves as the Co-North Regional Director, overseeing activities and events in the North Orange County area.

“I wanted to join to experience democracy firsthand. I wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to express their feelings through voting,” she said. 

Moving forward, Serrano hopes to make Melanated Youth reach a broader platform outside of Orange County. She is also trying to expand her knowledge of activism by reading different books by activists of color. 

“Activism isn’t anything new,” Serrano explained. “It’s just that the term activism wasn’t coined until recently. Through Melanated Youth, we want to make sure that we step outside our bubble and that we help other people outside of Orange County.” 

A humanitarian in times of uncertainty

Katrine Lee, a 17-year-old senior at Diamond Bar High School, works as the Diamond Bar District Executive and Humanitarian Committee Chair for the Raising Awareness to Improve Species Existence Humane Foundation.

The RAISE Humane Foundation is a high school-run non-profit organization that works towards environmental sustainability and promotes humanitarian campaigns. Lee says it has been a learning opportunity for her to further her understanding and grow her leadership skills.

As the Diamond Bar District Executive and Humanitarian Committee Chair, Lee works to oversee the high school chapters in the Diamond Bar District. She also works to lead humanitarian and environmental focused projects in her community.

“I’ve always had a really strong pull towards humanitarianism,” she said. “I don’t know enough about our environment but I’m working on it because it’s definitely a huge part of our lives.”

Despite the challenges and restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lee has led multiple projects to help her community. Some projects include restoring bee colonies and donating isolation gowns and face shields to different hospitals.

“We’ve done a lot of fundraising and collaborations with small businesses to help them out,” she said.

Looking forward, Lee hopes to attend college near Capitol Hill so that she can intern with various congressional committees. Additionally, Lee hopes to pursue her humanitarian efforts by joining different humanitarian-focused organizations in the college. 

“If I choose to be quiet and don’t try to get involved, I’m choosing not to express myself,” Lee said. “That’s not advantageous to myself or to my community.”

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