Southern Maine Youth Activists: KHS Civil Rights Team

Sophia Esch, Staff Writer

Although many people may say Gen-Z is riddled with teens who have too much screen time, listen to their brazen music with too much bass, and have an incredibly short attention span, one thing our generation really has is a voice, a powerful one too. I am proud to exist alongside a body of youth who realize that a voice is a voice, no matter how loud. Across the globe, our generation has organized numerous events for activism and used our voices to create change in a tumultuous world. Take Greta Thunberg, who at 16 organized numerous school climate strikes that had a transcontinental impact. There is no doubt that she, along with Malala Yousafzai and J’Mal Green, will be recognized for years to come.While some people have intuitive leadership skills, others may find it easier to begin addressing difficult subjects, like racism, sexism, and discrimination in a group filled with motivated individuals. Just by showing that you care, you can make a difference. As a member of the Civil Rights Team (CRT) at KHS, I feel compelled to argue that our group is a welcoming community which will allow you to become more involved in helping our community fight discrimination. 

You may have heard of the CRT through the advisory slideshow or Valentine’s day cards, but most likely, you did not pay further attention. As a member of the club, I have heard countless people express reluctance to join because it can appear we fail to accomplish anything. That is OKAY. In fact, many members and I have felt the same way, and faced frustration due to lack of progress and participation. However, despite the difficult circumstances surrounding our meetings this year, we have solidified our goals and strengthened our member participation within the club. Our team consists of members from all grades, and is advised by Mr. Smith. You may know him as a history teacher at our school, but when he is not helping you learn about U.S. foreign policy under President Truman, he is helping us make KHS a more accepting and inclusive space for our students. Although he does not boast about his contributions to our success, we truly could not do it without him. When I asked Mr. Smith why he believes it is important for youth to participate in activism, he told me that, “what you do as a high schooler is practice for what you will do as an adult.” He believes that regardless of the extent, practicing engaging in issues that move you will benefit you in growing up to be a more informed, inspired, and insightful citizen. Mr. Smith urges students to practice “not waiting for people [around you]” to initiate change, but to do it yourself. That is not to say you will be alone. Just within our small team, we have found a strong community that builds up each member. 

When interviewing several members of the team, I found three recurring themes: community, perspective, and compassion. A member of our team, Amede Olise, who is well known in our district for her contributions to the middle and high school CRTs, advocates that by joining the CRT, “KHS students could get a sense of strong community and see [their] peers show care and compassion.” Similarly, a senior Liz Mills touched on how the community we provide “gives a safe space for talking about difficult topics, a space where you are allowed to make mistakes and learn.” For Liz, this is viewed as a great privilege, as their former school, Biddeford, did not offer the same level of community. Almost as important as the community it provides, the CRT can help you open up to new perspectives and see not just the world, but our very own community in a different light. Liz argues that it is important to pay attention to perspective, especially “at our school, [and in our] predominantly white town, [where we can] recognize our privilege and see how it can be used to help others without it.” As a team this past year, we have opened up to different perspectives by extending our discussions to include community members from Many Towns One Circle and the Kennebunk Inclusion Project. Community members including parents, librarians, and our elders, have enriched our discussions on race. Finally, the most important tenet of our shared beliefs is compassion. Through our efforts, we want to make our town a place where we don’t have to agree, or even understand, but where we do have to respect each other and show compassion. We cannot have a productive society without it, and as Olise asserts, “going into the real world it is important to have strong morals, and participate in activism that opens your minds and makes you become a stronger, and more compassionate person.” This could not be more true. Neither could the statement made by Mills: “nobody should live in a world where they don’t feel welcome.” 

So why should you make an effort to join the CRT? Is it possible that you have anything to lose? Even if you do, I can assure you that there is much, much more to gain. I think as students and the youth of Southern Maine, it is most certainly our responsibility to be activists and continue fighting for change. Not only do we have new ideas and new motivation, we have a new voice. A voice that can be loud, without being strained. Like me, Toby Dunne, a senior at KHS, believes that, “we are the most powerful voices in the district, and right now, what we have to say is more important than ever.