The seeds of Teens Take Charge were planted when Bronx teens Nelson Luna and Whitney Stephenson shared their thoughts about school segregation and inequality for The Bell’s podcast in the summer of 2016. The conversation led Nelson and Whitney to begin thinking critically about the roles race and class played in their education — and it inspired them to want to make a change. Talented spoken word poets, Nelson and Whitney saw an opportunity to use art to elevate important issues in the education system. In the early spring of 2017, they met with teens from other parts of the city, who shared their passions, and together, they planned Teens Take Charge’s launch event, “To Whom it Should Concern,” at the Bronx Library Center on April 28, 2017.
Since then, Teens Take Charge has provided a platform to more than 60 New York City high school students to share their experiences in the school system on stages across the city, at official hearings, in meetings with policymakers, on television broadcasts, and in the pages of major news outlets. As the movement has grown, Teens Take Charge has expanded its work. Members study present-day educational inequity, its historical roots, develop policy proposals to address specific problems, and lead advocacy campaigns targeting the city and school officials with the ability to enact their solutions.
With a diverse group of 50 active members from more than 30 high schools across all 5 boroughs, Teens Take Charge closely mirrors the public school system’s racial and socioeconomic diversity — and it proves what’s possible when we choose to educate all of our students together.