My (Honest) Experience With Activism

NYC Youth Leadership Councils (YLCs) are a network of youth groups focused on policy, practice, and advocacy to make local change happen.


The Youth Leadership Council: a cohort of like-minded teenagers stemming throughout the five boroughs with one common goal. Undermining the apparatus. But what exactly does that mean? When I first ventured into the world of teen activism, I was consumed with the idea of going up in the ranks (as we all are, at some point). I signed up and applied to every organization that I could. Attended every meeting.  Made every call. Exhausted every resource possible. After a period of time, though, I grew displeased- I found myself at a low point. I then realized I was getting myself into something for the wrong reasons. Was I doing it for glory? Did I need some sort of validation? Or had I simply grown incontent with my previous accomplishments?  If I’m being frank, I was a little sheepish. In an attempt to ameliorate my sentiments, I turned to other outlets – up until I got a very compelling email. It advertised something to the likes of which I’ve never been a part of before. Yes, I’ve done my fair share of community organizing, and attended a plethora of events. But this was different. A group of kids who were just as vocal as me? It seemed too good to be true: a student council created  by the NYC Office of Sustainability. Intrigued, I quickly applied and brushed it to the side not thinking I’d get accepted.

 A few weeks later, I opened an email notifying me of my acceptance.

As the first meeting dawned, I grew ecstatic- but also nervous. I had this notion that I wouldn’t be smart enough or know much about the issues that would soon be presented. A little advice to your past self Leo: you’re wrong. Constantly undermining you and your capabilities is absurd (as it is in any case) – There was no shortage of enthusiasm nor support.

As mentioned earlier, our goal is to go against what our leaders in politics have deemed as “set”.  Oftentimes our politicians and lawmakers believe that everyone is satisfied with the choices being made for us. The truth is that there is a ridiculously disproportionate set of people actually willing to speak up. We live in the fear of not only being stigmatized, but set out as the enemy. If anything, we wish to connect with people in our communities on a more committed level.  We don’t wish to be politically correct or be loved by everyone for staying vocal – We want to be a catalyst for change, even at the risk of critics.  I asked Alanah Miller, a fellow council member of mine, a few questions to give a relative idea as to what it is we do.

Alanah Miller, 14- Brooklyn Technical High School 

What exactly inspired you to take part in the YLC (Youth Leadership Council)?
“Growing up, I’ve always held a deep passion for pressing issues regarding our environment and climate change. However, I didn’t know how to project my concerns. Nor did I have an idea of how exactly to take action. The YLC seemed like the perfect platform”.
Has the YLC impacted you in any way significantly?
“I’m more inclined to take action and can proudly be vocal about making resourceful changes in my school.  Seeing as BTHS is the largest school in the country, the thought of even making a dent in the school’s renewability system seems like a daunting task. With the help of other people that share the same fundamentals, the entire idea then becomes feasible”.
Any advice you would give to an aspiring teen activist?
“One person makes all the difference. You don’t have to know your place, even during the midst of advocacy”.
 As you know, I myself have gotten tangled up in finding my place in the world of activism. Any words for those struggling?
“Never be afraid to ask questions. There isn’t a perfect way of going about implementing change. If an opportunity arises, go for it. There will be failure. It’s simply a part of the job”.
A former Youth Leadership Council cohort is pictured here, strategizing ways to keep New York City as sustainable as possible.

A part of the job indeed. Since my emergence onto the activism scene, I’ve continued to pursue other avenues, and have been extremely fortunate. Not only do I continue to work with the offices of sustainability, and other amazing individuals, (shout out to you guys!) But I have also dived headfirst into the world of civics education via the Yvote network. With everything going on today, especially COVID -19, the idea of continuing our work seems like a waste of time to many. The battle, though, is never over. And again, no matter how lost you may be: There is always a path. Apply this to every aspect of your life. Not just activism (or the potential). There are others like you.  Don’t be afraid to reach out. 

The world is waiting.