By Amy Marcus
Youth power and passion.
With these words, signed together in American Sign Language on the first pandemic-driven Zoom call of the summer, 23 high school and college students across the country began to build a virtual community around a shared passion: getting out the youth vote in Philadelphia.
In that first group meeting, Vote That Jawn’s digital media interns hit the ground running with our first project— a ten-minute video for Philadelphia’s virtual Juneteenth festival celebrating the day that news of emancipation finally reached all the way down to Texas in 1865. Galveston, TX, was the last community to get the word, on June 19th that the enslaved were now free. As some of us learned the deep history of the holiday for the first time, we also considered why and for whom we vote.
For some of our summer team, voting means enacting positive change in our communities and electing the leaders who will bring about that change. For others, it means giving a voice to the voiceless and honoring ancestors who began the fight for voting rights.
“Juneteenth reminds me why I must continue to work to make sure all my peers are registered to vote and educated about the electoral process,” said Sheyla Street, a rising senior at Philadelphia’s Central High School. “As we let elections slip by us without our voices being heard, we also prolong the fight that our ancestors fought so hard to end.”
Our first project together represented our diversity of age, perspective and background, as well as our ability to come together quickly for the causes in which we believe. Despite the pressure of navigating a tight deadline—we were challenged to create the video in less than a week—virtual meetings and even different time zones, Juneteenth allowed us to kick off our summer by celebrating freedom and the Black community and kick-starting our video project.
“It was a good video about the history of Juneteenth and featured youth voices from all over Philly about the importance of voting,” shared University of Pennsylvania student and summer youth leader Samira Mehta, who edited and assembled the video with the help of several interns. “I was happy with how it turned out, and I definitely let out a big sigh of relief after it was finally submitted.”
From high school students not yet old enough to vote working on behalf of their peers to college graduates using their education to fight for the rights of young voters, we are learning to use our collective voice and our varied experiences to fight for real change in Philadelphia. The Juneteenth project showed us from the very first week what we are capable of accomplishing as a community, and we invite you to follow along and get involved as we Vote That Jawn!
Amy Marcus is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and one of Vote That Jawn's summer Digital Media Interns.