Young people have a terrible reputation for not caring about anything besides themselves. But the real problem might be that adults are not asking them what they care about. So we did. 10,000 Stories asked middle school and undergraduate students “what is important to you” and “what change do you want?”

And did they tell us. Youth grabbed the opportunity to name important issues facing their communities — gun violence, pollution, racism, xenophobia, gender inequality, bullying, and homelessness —  and link it to their lives. These students want to be and are active and engaged in the world — they are concerned about their schools, neighborhoods, communities, and the state of Minnesota. As they developed their ideas, they thought carefully, advocated for change, and listened to each other. And they want to have their voices and stories heard. So we went to the State Capitol to share them.

Youth marched to the State Capitol in St. Paul carrying signs that they have created about social issues of great importance to them. At the peak of a busy session, many esteemed legislators and mayoral candidates came to talk and listen to youth. Students dialogued with the politicians in the rotunda about the work they have done and shared the digital stories and zines they have created about social issues including immigration, neighborhood violence, gender equality, climate change, bullying, mental health, public school education, and institutional racism.

It is important to educate youth about civic participation and democracy in ways that emphasize empower them and emphasize community engagement. We believe that K-20 liberal arts education can be critical to this endeavor. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences emphasizes the importance of participatory “readiness” for civic engagement through K-20 liberal arts education. Empowering youth to engage is a key to our mission. We believe that youth stories and voices need to be heard now.