Blessing Onisemo

Union Square Academy for Health Sciences
New York, NY

When I was younger I always shied away from anything that had to do with being bold. I didn’t feel comfortable with others eyes on me. By the time I made it to my last days of middle school, I knew that had to change. You live only one life, so why would you spend it cowering in silence, invisible, when you can such valuable thoughts and experiences to share.

The focus issue my classmates and I are working on through Generation Citizen is sexual harassment. More specifically, our tactics are to advocate for the removal of the statute of limitations that limits the time victims have to bring their case to court and the end the use of non-disclosure agreements that are used to silence victims and allow the powerful to hide sexual harassment.

There’s no statute of limitations for murder or even traffic tickets, yet there’s one for sexual harassment. Nationally, its six months, that’s it. Fail to speak out and you are now legally silenced forever.

About 1 in 4 women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. The majority of these crimes go unreported due to fear of losing their job, threats to their safety, or even shame of being in the situation in the first place. Others do go and report these crimes, but any person with wealth and influence can easily have this covered up. And then there are those who just don’t know and aren’t aware of anywhere they can go to to get help.

Silence prevents justice from being served. With this in mind, my classmates and I worked together to reached out to local, state and national policymakers to insist that they pass laws that fill in the sexist and discriminatory gaps in our legal system.

Normally, people wouldn’t consider students fit for this type of work, but if we don’t who will? We, as young Americans have so much potential and power. If we just stand off to the side, keeping our thoughts to ourselves, or isolated in our classrooms and letting things proceed as they are, nothing will change. This speech is for everyone suffering in silence. Please don’t stay quiet, rise up, speak out. Shout about it if you must. Change won’t come if we all sit around and ask nicely. Thank you for your time.

Omar Ramirez

The Island School – P.S. 188
New York, NY

Hello my name is Omar Ramirez and I am 11 years old and I love talking to big crowds so I am happy to be here in front of you all. For our classes project, we chose to focus on advocating for a policy that would ban smoking within a 5-mile radius of firstly our school, and then mandate this be a law across all New York City schools.

We came to the conclusion that this is important as we found out the horrible impacts exposure to secondhand smoke has on young people and also a study on how visually seeing people smoking from a young age can increase the chances of you becoming a smoker yourself. This issue is so important to me because it breaks my heart that I have people close to me, like my parents, that used to smoke and it impacts me and other young people.

Through this project our class did a lot of research into health impacts of exposure to secondhand smoke such as lung cancer, brain tumors and even worse things. I don’t want to lose more people in my life to smoking so this is our chance to step up and reach out to people to educate them about the impact smoking has on everyone. Most importantly, to ensure young people like my classmates and other school children do not have to be impacted by secondhand smoke in a safe space that is our school.

The research we did shocked me, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It inspired me to push harder and work harder than ever to make sure that young people are not exposed to smoke. I don’t want any more lives in my community to be lost or impacted by this horrible addiction, I want help solve this with my class.

As one of our tactics to convince community members that our policy is important, we sent packets out to members of the community with information about the impacts of secondhand smoking and the addictive ingredients in cigarettes that are gross like bathroom cleaning chemicals and gasoline. Can you imagine how bad that is?!

My class felt proud that we could help have influence on how people would see smoking and how it affects them and us as young children. And that we could use our voice to advocate for why it is so important that smoke is not within school grounds. This was emotional to me as I also gave this information packet to people closest to me who smoke; they didn’t realize how much their habits impacted us until I showed them the effects of secondhand smoke and also the impact it has on young people’s views of smoking. I’ve even seen them making slow changes like throwing away cigarettes around me, its small but it means something and I can’t wait for us to get our policy implemented citywide.

Through this project I found my true voice of speaking about how to create change; this is the issue I am most passionate about but there are so many more things I want to use my voice for, like policy around pollution and the environment. I never knew someone my age could make a change I feel more powerful than ever now and that is my duty and my classmate’s duty to help people make a change in their community.

I want to give a special shout out to my classmates, we did this together we are so powerful and I wouldn’t be on this stage without them! Watch out for us 11 year olds we are here to change the world!