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Future Leaders of America was established in 1982, based on the idea that low-income youth could become leaders in their communities. Our program provides a safe and nurturing environment that allows youth to grow into leadership roles while exploring educational aspirations. We also provide much-needed information, including comprehensive sex education through partnerships with Planned Parenthood, so that young people can make informed decisions.
Two weeks ago, when our youth found out that Teen Talk was under attack for its comprehensive approach to sex education, members of Future Leaders of America decided to speak up. At the Santa Barbara Unified School District meeting during public comment, they articulated why comprehensive sexual education was essential to them and their peers. We are proud of their work, efforts, and leadership.
However, their leadership was not met with respect but rather condescension. After the young people elegantly spoke in support of Teen Talk, a couple of parents haughtily dismissed them and sarcastically referenced their age to devalue their input. “Of course, you all know everything in 10th grade,” one of the parents remarked. A second parent even attacked the youths for not holding “Mexican values.”
We were appalled by the comments, but we elected to listen respectfully. We applaud the school board for intervening and redirecting comments to the board and not to attack the youth.
It is disappointing that comprehensive sexual education is a hotly contested issue within the district when it should be about the health and well-being of all students. However, just because an issue is contentious, it does not mean it gives anyone any right to attack youth for their input. We as adults should set an example through having cordial and meaningful debates, not those that demean youth for their opinions and efforts. Young people need to be respected for their courage and ability to do what many adults cannot — showcase courageous leadership.
Unfortunately, these kinds of attacks on youth of color are all too common. We will continue to prepare students to speak up and speak truth about important and meaningful issues that impact them foremost and directly.
Eder Gaona-Macedo is executive director of Future Leaders of America.