Shelby Williams ’21 spoke as a My School Votes Student Ambassador at The United State of Young Women, a virtual three-day event that was held from July 22 to July 24. The event was organized as part of a larger national effort focused on gender equality that grew out of the Obama administration’s White House Council on Women and Girls. Topics included combating violence against women, combining media and activism, fighting for a sustainable and equitable future, barriers to health for young women of color, civic engagement for young people, and promoting voting.
Shelby, who has worked with both the New Jersey and Philadelphia My School Votes teams, spoke about issues important to younger voters. When her panel was asked about their motivation to have these difficult conversations about voting, Shelby replied “I think injustice really catalyzes my action.” She spoke about having a strong sense of empathy for people experiencing injustice when reading articles and hearing about unnecessary injustices in this country. Those injustices move her to action. “This is America. We have the potential to be the most incredible nation, the most equitable nation on earth, but when we don’t live up to those core values, then we fall short of our fundamental principles.”
Shelby first became involved in My School Votes in early April, after having a frustrating time trying to connect with others to create her own voter registration drive. After responding to an outreach email, she quickly joined the organization. “I was immediately enamored by how many teens from around the country were interested in doing the same work that I was passionate about! The My School Votes program was created under the umbrella of When We All Vote, a non-profit, non-partisan organization founded by Michelle Obama.” When We All Vote hopes to change the culture around voting and wants to close the race and age voting gaps.
Shelby was thrilled to be asked to speak on The My School votes panel. “I was so honored to be in the virtual presence of so many other young activists and changemakers like Amandla Stenberg, Nia Sioux, Jordan Reeves, and Marley Dias, and learn from them about their work,” she said. “I’m so glad that my panelists and I received such positive feedback about what we presented, and that we inspired others to join in our fight to ensure that our country is a more representative democracy!”
At one point in the panel discussion, Shelby mentioned that she was hesitant to call herself an activist at first, a title that she proudly bears now. When asked about her initial hesitancy, she replied: “I think that as young people, it can sometimes be challenging for us to recognize the great impact and influence of the work that we do. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing dozens of other incredible teens who called themselves activists, and I was initially hesitant to align myself with them because I didn’t think that my work was comparable.”
She then reflected on her journey and admitted that it took a lot of self-reflection to embrace that title. She said that she had to “recognize that by volunteering through the George School Andrew Bourns Social Justice Grant, protesting against gun violence, climate change, racism, and misogyny, and writing articles about social inequality, I have been campaigning for social and political change.”
Learn more. (12:25)