Lamar Danley

Lamar Danley

A LOT OF INDIVIDUALS are coming out of high school and college unable to solve real world problems because you can’t find the answer in a passage or a book. Education doesn’t tell us to think hard anymore—it teaches us that the answer is somewhere close. When in reality, it takes a lot of hard work to find those answers.

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Education doesn’t tell us to think hard anymore—it teaches us that the answer is somewhere close. When in reality, it takes a lot of hard work to get those answers.”

Young leaders need more mentorship and a lot more positive feedback. Actually listen to us and help us get our solutions done. Generation Z will say what we want done, and leaders will say, “That’s a great idea. I hope when you become a congressman one day, you’ll implement it.”

Young people aren’t listened to, but we know we have power to change the system. This is about the future of the world. Climate change isn’t being taken seriously. It’s predicted we won’t even have social security when we get older. Does the world care about us? How can we care about ourselves if every day no one seems to care about the problems we have?

David Spicer

THROUGHOUT COVID, especially that first year, students really suffered from isolation. I’ve heard from students who, outside of Zoom classes, wouldn’t speak to anyone for an entire day in their physical space. That really takes a toll on students. Even on the tail end of the pandemic, we’re still seeing that increased need for mental health support.

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Any space where there’s decision-making, there should also be a student.”

Students who are most disconnected are often students of color. Having culturally competent clinicians is so important, but really lacking right now. I’m a Mexican American student. What does it mean for a student like me when I don’t see a clinician who’s Latinx? Identity is such a core part of students’ lives—it drives a lot of how they view the world. It really does create a barrier to access when they’re not able to find a clinician.

There’s a healthcare center here in Boston that specializes in LGBTQ+ care. So many students told me that they were on a three- to six-month waiting list. When you think about it, that’s an entire semester of issues that a student has to put on pause to seek help.

Emiliano Juarez

MARCH 13, 2020 was the last day of school for everybody, in person at least. After COVID, we split apart in eighth grade. People just didn’t connect with each other. I drifted away from all of my friends. I had zero interactions with them. Freshman year, I was really lost—it was hard for me coming back into high school. I knew a couple people, but it was rough. We weren’t able to do clubs in person, and I wasn’t able to connect with the teachers well, so freshman year I had limited opportunities to do the extracurriculars that I enjoyed.

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As president of the mariachi club, I want to create something that students will enjoy and where they feel welcome.”

I would say I missed practicing with the mariachi club most. Our official name is Mariachi Juvenil Los Tigres. We met every Tuesday after school on Zoom, but it was so weird and hard because people couldn’t really connect with each other. After we went back to in-person school in late spring, it was basically time to say goodbye.

Iyana Gross

THERE IS THE notion that you should always be doing something to build your resume to help you apply to college. You should be doing this internship or that job. But when you’re always working toward building something, it doesn’t allow you to sit and enjoy what you’ve done, to celebrate and recognize it.

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When working across differences, it’s important to enter the setting with the idea that ‘I’m coming here to learn from someone else.’”

Personally, I don’t believe in the idea of doing something to build your resume. I believe in doing things I enjoy and that align with where I want to go in the future. Simply applying to something because someone told you to do it isn’t helpful. There’s so much going on in the world—politics, the environment with climate change, our family lives—sometimes a break is needed.

We need to recognize when we need a break. Far too often children or young adults don’t say no because our ‘no’ is taken as laziness. But in reality, it’s us recognizing when we’ve had enough and we need to re-energize ourselves so we can then focus on what we need to do in the future.

Delashay Lawrence

I GREW UP in North Tulsa, Oklahoma in a single father household with six siblings. Where I’m from, a lot of people don’t make it anywhere in life. There is a lot of poverty and generational curses. There are many large families who struggle and can’t make ends meet. Growing up, it was hard to know that you could be someone.

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I’m showing all of my family the difference. I’m showing my community the difference. I will do whatever it takes to make a change and be that change for others.”

I always told myself, I want to do something different. I want to be somebody. My first exposure to success was as a sophomore in high school when I got into Harvard University’s Summer School Program. It was life-changing. They gave me a partial scholarship, but I still didn’t have the money to go, so my community did a GoFundMe.

That opportunity made me want to experience more. After that, I worked hard in high school to keep my grades up. I was accepted to University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff on a full ride academic scholarship. My major is international business.

David Diao

IN THE PAST year with COVID-19, things have been harder than usual. The only thing you have control over is how you react. That’s how many students have moved through the school year. But I think it’s important for educators to consider how they can help students with what they’re going through. Specifically, how can faculty or administration help students meet challenges, adapt, and overcome these challenges.

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We need teaching that’s more interactive, more off-script, where students can think independently and present their ideas and lead discussions.”

Education has always been closely tied with the concept of democracy, going back to the founding of the nation. I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said that a democracy is kept afloat by an educated electorate. In the modern day, education is more important than ever.

One key role education has to play in our generation is helping to build critical thinking skills so we can create a better democracy. We have all this information available—how are we going to filter through it? How are we going to use it most effectively to create change?

Each generation has new challenges and opportunities. Technology is probably one of the most all-encompassing changes that has happened in recent generations. It seeps into every part of what we do. It’s how we interact with other people. It’s how we get involved in social movements. It’s even how, in some instances, we interact with the economy.

Krasi Staykov

I WENT TO a school in a low-income community before I was pulled into the magnet program in my district, so I saw the stark inequalities in resources between what I got and what students in my other school were getting. I got involved with the Kentucky Student Voice Team in my freshman year of high school. It’s a student-led organization that works to try and advance an education system that’s more just.

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Gen Z is a lot more communitarian. To me, that’s really powerful—the idea that doing good looks like doing good for as many people in our community as possible.”

Going through the education system while simultaneously trying to create change within it—I realized how difficult it is to silo education from other avenues of life. Schools are so important for students, in terms of accessing basic needs like food or having a safe place to go, but also supports like mental health. In order to shape better schools, we have to change so much around our schools as well.

Gen Z is a lot more communitarian in the sense that there’s an orientation towards the group. There’s this belief in communal welfare at a deeper level. To me, that’s really powerful—the idea that doing good looks like doing good for as many people in our community as possible. A lot of people feel frustration with the political process, so there’s a drive to look beyond political systems for support. What does it look like when we are there for each other and care for each other and create the systems we need?

Jacob Idra

MY VIEW ON education is a little different because I was born in South Sudan where there is no public education. Coming here to America was a blessing for our family. My parents quickly realized that you need the best education in order to advance in this country. If you don’t have that, it’s very easy to fall off.

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We want to learn through our passions and what we believe is our purpose.”

Here in Nebraska, we don’t have any school choice options, but some of us were able to get scholarships through foundations like the Children’s Scholarship Fund. It allowed me to go to a Catholic middle school, and from there I was blessed enough to get a scholarship to a competitive high school. Without that, I would’ve never had the opportunity to show what I could do in the classroom or in athletics.

But going to college shouldn’t only be an opportunity for me and a few of my friends. We shouldn’t be the exception to the rule. What we’re trying to do here in Nebraska is bring a School Choice Program so that more families have that opportunity.

Nzinga Muhammad


BEING IN GEN Z is about being a part of the past, but also being part of the future. It’s almost as if we’re reincarnating what our ancestors fought for, but now it’s on a larger scale with technology. Social movements can start on Twitter.

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We are the generation to advocate for things to change.”

Our politically progressive movements are helping to shape technology and how technological policies are made. TikTok just changed their policies to limit hate speech—antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, white supremacy. We are the generation to advocate for things to change and to find different ways within our specific demographics and specific platforms for how that change can manifest.

We were raised by people who told us, “Go to school, get your education, get a good job, bring that money home, get us out the ‘hood.” Education is often seen as the only way out, but career resources have to be community-oriented and community-based. Parents, teachers, and community leaders should be exposing students to different career paths, whether they require a degree or not. Skills and trades are still very much real and necessary. If we’ve learned anything in this pandemic, it’s that all of a sudden everybody was an essential worker, right? There shouldn’t be any putting down one career over another, because they’re all essential.

Grace Callwood

Grace Callwood

FOR 17-YEAR-OLD Grace Callwood, a terrible diagnosis sparked a lifelong desire to combat the sadness of kids confronting personal trauma.

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Grace Callwood knows what it feels like to be a child suffering from pain and sadness.

In 2011, when she was just seven years old, Grace was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“I had no idea what cancer was, or what it meant, until I had it. I just knew that this new terrible thing had come upon me,” Grace recalls.

The diagnosis upended her life. Instead of discovering the joys of school in first grade, Grace spent weeks in hospital enduring chemotherapy and surgery – part of a long journey back to health.

The mission of We Cancerve is to bring swift solutions to children in need, because we believe happiness shouldn’t have to wait.”

There are some things in life, like cancer, that you can’t choose. But there are some things you can. In that moment, Grace chose generosity over self-pity. When she learned about two young girls who lost their home in a fire, Grace donated her new, unused school clothes to help them in their recovery.

That act of kindness fueled a spirit of giving that Grace channeled into We Cancerve Movement Inc., a nonprofit with a mission to provide happy experiences to children who are homeless, ill or in foster care. To date, the organization has served more than 25,000 youth.

Tell me a bit about yourself and your journey with cancer.

I am 17 years old and a junior in the Global Studies International Baccalaureate Program at Edgewood High School, in Edgewood, Maryland. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was in the hospital for about two weeks. During that time, I started a five-week chemotherapy regimen. That’s the time it took to get the cancer out of me. My family noticed lumps in my neck and in my thigh. It took another three years of treatment to make sure it didn’t come back. I have had three major surgeries. I lost my hair five times due to chemotherapy. At some point I was taking more than 20 pills a day. I’ve had 81 spinal taps. I was declared cured in 2019, which means I had gone five years off chemotherapy without a relapse.

Why did you start We Cancerve?

When I got sick, I was showered with so many blessings and acts of kindness from my church, from the hospital, from the community. So many people who brought me moments of happiness that I wanted to share with other youth in sad situations. So when I heard about these two girls who lost their home, all I could think about was how I related to them; how our lives had totally changed in an instant. I decided to donate my brand-new back-to-school clothes because I knew that those girls needed the clothes. I certainly didn’t. My mom made the delivery because I was too sick to go. And when my mom told me about their happy reaction, I knew I wanted to do more work like that. I learned that giving back is something I want to do and that I’m effective in doing.

What does the organization look like today?

We have an all-youth board of advisors ages 8 to 18. There are currently eight of us, including myself. Together we plan and brainstorm ways to bring some happiness into the lives of kids who have a lot of sadness. The mission of We Cancerve is to bring swift solutions to children in need, because we believe happiness shouldn’t have to wait. I remember in the beginning of my journey with cancer, I was just living my seven-year-old life. And I felt I had done something wrong. Was it because I didn’t drink my water or eat my vegetables? I was a kid. I didn’t understand. It’s important that we tell kids the troubles they face are not their fault.

Jadyn Fleming

BEING AT THE beginning of the digital age means a lot of things. There’s a lot of accessibility, a lot of information, and the ability to connect with so many different people, countries, and cultures. My generation is more holistic, inclusive and empathetic.

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Representation matters. It took until ninth grade for me to have a teacher, Ms. Rigsby, who looked like me.”

During the pandemic, school participation definitely decreased and being in a virtual format was hard. The most important aspect of education is the one-on-one contact with teachers, the people you’re trusting your kids with every day.

If I was running my own high school, I would definitely pay attention to the staff I hire. I believe I’m here today because of the teachers who chose to give me time and attention and donate all of their efforts and emotion to me. Representation matters, too. It took until ninth grade for me to have a teacher, Ms. Rigsby, who looked like me. During the pandemic or whenever I experienced a really close loss, the relationships I had with my teachers definitely contributed to my success today.


What makes you excited to go back to school?

“Elmo is so excited to be going back to school! Elmo had fun learning with his friends and teachers on video, but Elmo really really can’t wait to see them at school again! Elmo misses them so much… We’ll make art and build with blocks and we’ll have story time together!”

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Elmo had fun learning with his friends and teachers on video, but Elmo really really can’t wait to see them at school again!

Are you worried about going back to school?

“Elmo feels a little nervous to go back because some days are going to be different. But it’s okay because Elmo’s teachers will help Elmo and his friends learn and play together again!”

Zahir Mbengue

Zahir, you and your classmates at Village Leadership Academy succeeded in renaming a public park in your North Lawndale neighborhood. Why and how did you do it?

“At first it was named for Stephen Douglas, the slave holder and senator who ran against Abraham Lincoln. North Lawndale is a predominantly black neighborhood, and it really felt like an insult that the park was named for a white slaveholder. [The park is now named for famed abolitionists Frederick and Anna Douglass.] It took about four years of public meetings with the Chicago Park District. We also got close to 5,000 signatures through canvassing in North Lawndale on Saturdays.”

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You need to have an ideology that you’re going to change things. You have to work hard and expect to have pushback from people.”

How can schools help kids who want to make change in their communities?

“In our school we have a GRC, or Grassroots Campaign, where every class from kindergarten through eighth grade chooses a problem in their community to change. Now we’re doing housing discrimination. My brother’s third grade class is working on littering. Another class is doing anti-smoking. Essentially, the whole point of the curriculum is to build up kids’ belief that they have the power to change the world around them. The other day one of my friend’s friends littered, and my little brother was like, “Pick it up!” At eight years old, I just thought about gummy bears and stuff. So that really shows the curriculum is working.