Nearly 80 high-school students from around the state participated in the first-ever Minority Youth Congress Friday at the statehouse in Des Moines. The students formed committees to write up proposed bills for the coming legislative session.
Fort Dodge junior Miguel Secor says he hopes that someday the Iowa legislature has more faces that look like his. He’d like to see more minorities in the state capitol, he says, and wants more of the younger generation’s problems “brought to the table.” He says if we tackle those, the generations even younger than his will be able to live better.
He thinks the main problem is people who aren’t aware of the difference in the cultures. “They overlook us as minorities, and they don’t see what we have to bring as well.” Secor was chosen by his fellow students to represent Fort Dodge at the event in Des Moines.
Melissa Esquivel with the Iowa Division of Latino Affairs helped organize their visit, and says it’s opened the eyes of the high-schoolers. She says the opportunity helps them realize they can make a difference. They were “elected” for this visit by their peers, giving them a taste of how that works. She says it builds their self-confidence, makes them leaders, gives them a chance to become a legislator and encourages them to do that.
Esquivel says statistics show minorities are “in the wrong place.” “Their numbers are in the wrong places — dropout rates, incarceration, and they’re low on home ownership. We wanted these youths to know that they have a voice here in the state.” During their mock legislative session, the high-schoolers proposed raising the dropout age to 17, to reduce the rate of minority students dropping out of pubic school.