“Change-making” in Process

Eli Emigh, Generation Citizen’s newest New York Program Associate, reflects on some of his first experiences in the classroom.


I began my role as a Program Associate with Generation Citizen’s NYC team at the start of February 2017 after working as an organizer with the Oregon Student Association. I was excited to continue working on civic engagement and youth advocacy. Generation Citizen grounds the idea of making real local change by getting young people engaged politically. I found myself wondering what does the process of making change look like under GC’s model? One of my first classroom visits at the Global Learning Collaborative on the Upper West Side answered this question.

I visited Lisa Hicks’ combined junior and senior class on a Tuesday afternoon. Maryel Cardenas, a first-time Democracy Coach and freshman at Pace University, leads the class. Maryel, Lisa, and I all are new to GC this semester. During my visit the students would begin the lesson deliberating different issues in their communities. They came prepared with media, research, and personal experiences ready to engage in dialogue to build consensus on one issue to focus on for their semester action plan. “When choosing a community and focus issue, my class was very honest about issues in their community,” Maryel said.

Maryel facilitated a deep and personal discussion around police relations with youth. She believes the students were drawn to this issue because they “wanted to focus on police relations specifically with people in their age group, because it has the biggest impact on them.” Throughout the class, every student grappled with this issue. The students were critically reflecting on experiences in their community, sharing narratives about themselves, their family, and friends.

After the class, as Mrs. Hicks was walking us out, we reflected on the class discussion we had just witnessed. “I had never seen some of those students talk, let alone that much in a single class,” Mrs. Hicks commented. We agreed that we had all just witnessed an empowering discussion — our first Generation Citizen “wow!” moment.

“The discussions I have had with my class have made me realize students have strong opinions on an array of issues in our country, but nowhere to voice them. When given the opportunity to speak about issues they care about, they are very responsive. The Generation Citizen program has made me realize that a big part of my role is creating an environment where my students feel they are being heard.”

-Maryel Cardenas, Democracy Coach

I left the classroom with a deeper appreciation for Generation Citizen and our work. An important aspect of empowering youth and promoting change-making is teaching the skills and knowledge to impact policy at the local level. Moreso, this experience can cultivate a civic motivation and disposition fueled by the belief that your voice as a citizen matters. Moments like this truly illuminate the potential impact an actions-civics education can have on our youth.


Generation Citizen is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 tax exempt organization which does not endorse candidates; our goal is to engage our staff, participants, and stakeholders in political and civic action on issues that matter to them personally and in their communities. The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the writer alone and do not reflect the opinions of Generation Citizen.