More youth should have a seat at the decision-making table

Appalachia’s leaders have long wondered how to get more young people involved in matters of state. Since the Shaping Our Appalachian Region Summit last December, there has been a renewed push to involve more young people in processes that will design eastern Kentucky’s future. (Picture from The STAY Project, a youth-led, grassroots regional network of young people working to create sustainable, engaging and inclusive communities in Appalachia. Learn more about STAY, here.)

Shortly after the SOAR Summit, the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition hosted a call-in day for youth to let their legislators know they supported the Clean Energy Opportunity Act. But when youth began calling in to the switchboards in Frankfort, many were told they could not leave messages for their representatives because they were younger than 18 years old. The youth took action, and steps were immediately taken to end the 15-year informal policy of not allowing anyone under 18 to leave messages for their legislators.

Clearing the way for youth to freely and opening contact their legislators regardless of how young they are is definitely a move in the right direction, and we applaud the Legislative Research Commission for taking such swift action.

But, we are disappointed this week about the limited number of young people on the SOAR executive committee, which is in charge of next steps in the initiative. The list of working group facilitators is also lacking in youth voices. This is certainly a missed opportunity.

If we want to build a brighter future in this state and region, we must provide genuine and dedicated space for youth participation at every level of the process, regardless of their age. After all, it is their future we are building, not our own. And for that reason, their opinions about eastern Kentucky’s future prosperity should perhaps be considered the most important.