As the District’s June 19 primary quickly approaches, an Anacostia-based organization has been working swiftly to reach an important but largely unregistered group of eligible D.C. voters: high school students.
The Future Foundation, which works within Ballou Senior High School in Southeast, held a series of candidate forums and voter registration drives leading up to the primary election during the school day.
“We are always on the political trail,” said Elle Clack, the foundation’s community program manager. “It is our hope that we throw these events and the students will come.”
On Wednesday, the organization held the last of its three mayoral candidate forums. In the two-hour session, candidates Ernest Johnson, Dustin Canter and James Butler spoke to a crowd of about 20 students, teachers and parents about several topics including criminal justice reform, neighborhood crime and school safety. Other issues included community-police relations, affordable housing, teenage employment and equitable growth in the city.
The District allows 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote and also permits 17-year-olds to register and cast ballots in the primary if they will be 18 on or before the next scheduled general election.
“I was pleased with the number of students who showed up — maybe all of them did not stay in the auditorium, but they came,” Clack said.
The program has no formal signup procedure for the drop-in program, and attendance can range from five to 25 students at any given time. But the forums have captured the attention of about 50 students.
Clack said the organization offers students incentives to attend the events such as food and opportunities to complete community service hours needed to graduate with the hopes that they will be engaged in the civic process. She said teens in the school often face barriers to register to vote.
“Registering to vote is not a digital process,” Clack said. “Finding a mailbox to mail [a] registration in can be.”
The Future Foundation has been able to register about 30 students because of the forums that included forums for candidates for the Council chairman, at-large council member and mayoral races.
Founded in 2012, the Future Foundation serves “future adults” aged 13 to 21 and their families through social justice advocacy and providing resource development skills. But at the heart of their action is political education.
“Ultimately, our work creates ‘future adults’ who do not embrace an apathetic attitude towards securing human rights, economic opportunities and community wellness,” the organization’s mission reads. “We use solutions to address social problems. We create a future worth fighting for!”
Aiyi’nah Ford, executive director of the Future Foundation, said many of the students apart of the program are in families that suffer from displacement, unemployment and various forms of trauma such as domestic violence, mental health issues and criminal activity.
“They liked the idea that political-engagement education that allowed them to change things they thought never would change,” Ford said. “A meeting about school lunch turned into a whole campaign.”
Dena’ya Henson, 18, moderated the organization’s three candidate panels and said they have helped her become more involved in the political process and now she hopes to encourage other teens to become involved as well.
“[Politicians] are not building our communities; the issues we face have been going on for so long,” Dena’ya said. “We need more support.”
“A lot of the candidates are running, but don’t know what issues matter to teens and this was a good opportunity to let candidates answer our questions and address our concerns,” she said.