#CivicsForUS: Youth Leadership, Youth Ownership — Viren Mehta’s Advocacy Work

Viren Mehta, a student from the Equity in Civics Youth Fellowship inaugural cohort, was selected by Michael Matsuda, Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent, for an internship with his office because of his work as an Equity in Civics fellow. He is currently a high school sophomore from Cyprus, California and works as an environmental advocate and promoter of youth voice.

In that role, Viren worked with Matsuda’s legal team to create a resolution on providing concrete steps to mitigate climate change within Anaheim AND reforming the education system in a way that grants students opportunities and learning to both understand the litany of social and economic problems that exist in the world today, as well as, create tangible change within their respective communities.

Representing over 30,000 of his peers, Viren’s presentation to the Board of Trustees on climate change and its impact on society, along with the importance of civic engagement in the schools to face the challenges it presents, won a 5–0 unanimous decision.

Viren spent the year in our fellowship working on how to connect his passion for environmental advocacy with equitable civic learning. He attributes his success to his involvement in the Equity in Civics Youth Fellowship program.

We took time to sit down with Viren to discuss how his fellowship experience helped with his internship.

What did the internship experience mean to you?

This internship meant so much to me because it was amazing to work with the superintendent and his legal team knowing that I would be directly helping thousands of students and families in California. We were able to create real, tangible change that will hopefully pay the way for future reforms relating to education and climate change. However, it also symbolizes something greater — a new era of students being able to speak out within their community and a testament to how far we’ve come relating to ensuring student voice is heard. As someone who is familiar with the existential risks of global warming, it was refreshing to see a nonpartisan decision to do something about this pressing issue.

Why should students get access to experiences like these?

Students should be able to gain access to experiences like these because we are the future of our country — our ability to speak out and create change within our communities at a young age will shape the way we become citizens in the future. Do we want a generation of kids that are able to speak for themselves and sustain our democracy or a generation of kids that know problems exist within the world but cannot do anything about it? That is the question we must be asking ourselves when contemplating giving students access to opportunities like the one I received.

What skills from the Youth Fellowship helped you in the pursuit of writing, delivering, and succeeding in your goal?

The iCivics fellowship helped me a lot because many of the skills I learned such as being able to connect with an audience as well as ways to efficiently articulate my position on a certain issue allowed me to convince the board to pass the resolution. Not only that, using the social media techniques I learned over the course of the fellowship, I was able to garner a lot of student input and feedback on the resolution. This feedback helped me modify/present the resolution in a way that I knew would hit home with a lot of people.

Why is combining your passion for environmental advocacy with civic participation important to you?

Combining my passion for environmental advocacy and the importance of civic participation I learned during the iCivics fellowship was important because speaking is one thing, but actually creating tangible change is something that is more important. It is important that students take that next step so they become familiar with not only finding their voice but also using their voice to impact people in a beneficial way.

What is next for you?

In the future, I hope to start working on even bigger products, teaming up with politicians, other activists, and news organizations to continue creating change!

Watch Viren’s presentation to the Board of Trustees below at 57:07.

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