by Sruthi Ramaswami
During my freshman year of high school, I participated in a statewide event called Catholic Lobby Day—an advocacy event where groups from various churches spoke to their legislators about the social justice issues that matter most to them.
I had a fantastic experience with some classmates speaking to my legislators about key issues such as child hunger, the budget and education, and felt like I had just taken a huge step towards impacting legislation that would benefit immediate community. But what surprised me was that we were the only student group present at the event. Why weren’t other students involved in the empowering experience I had just had?
It was that moment that inspired and motivated me to transform the preparation for the annual Catholic Lobby Day into a larger organization to promote community service through political advocacy. With the help of teachers and mentors, I created the Mitty Advocacy Project (MAP) in my sophomore year to form a community of youth advocates who would speak out for the interests of the less fortunate—those who can’t afford to put food on their plates, victims of human trafficking, struggling veterans, and many more.
Through the Project, I have been determined to show my peers how getting involved in politics can impact change. We currently have hundreds of students nationwide meeting with legislators, presenting at universities, and really making a tangible impact on critical social justice issues.
From my experiences with MAP, I have learned that taking little steps to change the world isn’t something you have to wait to do until you’re older. It can start today, no matter how old you are, if you believe in yourself and your ability to do good for the people around you.
In fact, I think as young people, we have a special power that many people don’t recognize. We’re young, armed with fresh ideas, creativity, energy, and intelligence. We have a whole life ahead of us, with so many opportunities to really make a difference if we seek them out.
Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the news we hear about what’s going on around us—violence, poverty, and more—and think that it’s going to take something ground-breaking and something totally different to make an impact. But the truth is, you don’t need to do anything special to make a positive difference in the world. You just have to take a moment to realize that being you, with your beliefs, leadership, and potential is all it takes. Don’t be afraid to step up, because I really believe that the best hope for the future comes from our generation.
To all my readers, I encourage you to find a small piece of your community you’d like to get involved in. It doesn’t have to be something huge, but just something where you feel inspired to take progressive action. Contact your city hall, speak to agencies about the issues you care about, work together with your friends, and cherish being a leader in your community. And remember, it all starts with just a little belief that yes, you can do it!
Sruthi Ramaswami, age 18, of California, has been named a national winner of the 2013 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. Each year, the Barron Prize celebrates twenty-five inspiring, public-spirited young people from all across America who have made a significant positive difference to people and our planet. The top ten to fifteen winners each receive a $5,000 cash award to support their service work or higher education. For more information please visit www.barronprize.org