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Stories of Impact

Courtesy of YVote

To say that the political landscape has been shifting under our feet would be woefully inadequate. The political upheaval we’re witnessing in America today is unparalleled — and it’s become glaringly apparent that  now more than ever, the wellbeing of our nation will rest in the hands of future generations.

Today, Gen Z — which refers to young people born between 1996 and early 2000s — represents the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in American history, with nearly 50% being people of color. Both driven and civically engaged, they are more likely to pursue a college degree than the generation before them, and believe that our government should be part of the solution to our nation’s problems.

However, Gen Z’s passion doesn’t guarantee a changing political landscape.  In fact, as Sanda Balaban, co-founder and director of the Brooklyn-based, youth-centered nonprofit, YVote, explains it, “Young people run the risk of leaving their collective power on the table when they choose not to engage in the political process.”

Young people run the risk of leaving their collective power on the table when they choose not to engage in the political process. Sanda Balaban, Co-Founder and Director

“What really motivated us [to found YVote] was the level of vitriol and polarization we saw across our nation in and around the 2016 general election.” Balaban explained. Founded in 2017, YVote stands at the intersection of education and politics, helping to spark a cross-partisan youth voting movement through which young people connect their passions and beliefs with how they can make a difference at the ballot box and beyond.

According to Balaban, young people in their teens are a critical population to engage in civic duties because they are at the peak of their identity formation. “This is the perfect time to help them crystallize their sense of civic identity, agency, and advocacy — so they could better understand why they should vote,” she explained.

Two young women wearing feather boas smile, posing with a sign that says "Future Voter." They're standing in front of a banner that reads "YVOTE 2023 Changemakers"

Among the many initiatives YVote has underway is a Gen Z-produced podcast, The Round Table, which features civic-minded young people aiming to build bridges across various divides. They also organize peer-led, out-of-school civics programs including YVote Change Makers Institute, Next Gen Civic Forums, and Democracy Camp, working with high school students to explore everything from identity and power to civic engagement and politics.

YVote is regularly developing a wide range of new and exciting initiatives, including the development of a digital Youth Civic Hub to make civic opportunities and voting resources known and navigable to New York City youth.

“Brooklyn Org has generously supported our civic engagement efforts on the ground in Brooklyn communities, and assisting changemakers wherever possible,” said Balaban. “For smaller nonprofits such as ours, this support has been critical to ensuring we have the resources to push ahead with the important work we have underway. We know that change isn’t easy, but there’s no question that it’s vital to ensure that we all can live in an equal and just society — and this starts with making sure budding Gen Z leaders have a seat at the table.”

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