Renee Omolade, Program Coordinator at the Lewis Family Foundation, emceed the event.
Over a dozen students from across the city gathered at The Great Hall in Dorchester on Tuesday, October 25th to attended the mock debate, “They Don’t Want You to Vote,” hosted by Bigger Than My Block (BTMB).  

BTMB is a non-profit organization that tackles the issue of the low number of college graduates in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan, by providing accessible resources which encourage teens to be on a path towards a college degree. Their educative event was aimed to inform both new voters and students who are still too young to vote, about the questions on the Massachusetts ballot and the importance of voting in both presidential and local elections.   

“When we think about why we want people to go to college, it's really about empowerment and giving them the best opportunity to live a sufficient life. So when we think about voting, it's also the same idea,” said Renee Omolade, Program Coordinator at the Lewis Family Foundation, who emceed the event. 

During the mock debate, question two on the November 8th ballot – which would authorize the state to add up to 12 new charter schools, at the cost of existing public schools - sparked an uproar. This question directly affects young people and their educational resources. 

Those voting “yes” on question two are in favor of opening new charter schools to give students more options, even if it means taking money out the of budget from public schools. Those voting “no”, believe in investing in the public schools that are currently open in order to make public education better for everyone. 

It's on questions like this that the youth voice must be heard, loud and clear. 

Amidst the pandemonium concerning the distribution of resources for charter or public schools, a heartfelt and passionate debate, similar to the fiery townhouse debates between the presidential candidates, transpired. 

No one knows more about the importance of voting in local elections than Monica Cannon, a Roxbury native who ran for State Representative earlier this year and lost by a mere 100 votes. 

“Your state representative votes on your budget for the city,” said Cannon, who served as a guest commentator at the event. “The odds of you meeting Hillary Clinton are slim to none.” Cannon makes a critical point. Although presidential elections get all the glory, voting in local elections is equally crucial. 

As the night progressed, the overall message to young voters remained the same: even if you feel your voice doesn’t matter or can’t be heard, young people still have a huge influence. It is important to vote in both presidential and local elections, despite the factors that may discourage you to do so. Its also critical that we do all of our research on ballot questions before casting a yes or no answer. 

 It’s a privilege to vote, therefore on November 8th, those who are 18 should take advantage of it. Without the option to vote, we are stripped of one of the significant rights we have as Americans. 

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Jose Feliz, 15, from Roslindale, is surprised that some of the products that he uses daily are tested on animals first to see if they are safe for humans. “It is kind of sad how million-dollar companies could hurt animals to test new products,” says Feliz. According to The Humane Society of the United States, products ranging from shampoo and cologne to lipstick and nail polish are commonly tested on animals. “It’s estimated that thousands of mice, guinea pigs, rats, and rabbits suffer and die in these tests every year in the US alone,” says the Humane Society, describing consequences such as convulsions, blindness, and paralysis. As an alternative, the Humane Society says companies can use ingredients that are already known to be safe. Some scientists, however, argue that eliminating animal testing would halt innovation, meaning improved ways to fight things like dry skin and dandruff would not be developed. Tulia Farias, 15, from Excel High School, says that so many practical goods are tested on animals that it’s hard to avoid them. “We are kind of forced to use them, regardless,” Farias says. Charyn Gonzalez, 14, from Roxbury, says she will look into a company’s testing history before she uses its merchandise. “Where do people find the heart to do that to animals?” she asks.
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Edmilson Barbosa, 17, from West Roxbury Academy, knows why teens still smoke. “They find it fun, they think it’s cool, and they are motivated to do it especially if their friends do it, as well,” says Barbosa. He also says that some teens are unaware of possible harms from smoking tobacco. “They probably don’t have someone to educate them or the school they attend doesn’t inform them,” he says. Today, spotting a teenager with a cigarette is still common -- despite years of anti-smoking campaigns that have included graphic images of deformed lung cancer victims. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 88 percent of adult daily smokers say they started with cigarettes before they were 18. While the CDC says cigarette use by teens has declined in the last decade, the agency reports that every day in the US about 4,000 young people under 18 take their first puffs. Teens say they are constantly targeted by tobacco companies with products that seem hip. Junior Correia, 15, from Dorchester, says that teens are influenced by what they see in the media, and he portrays the tobacco companies as villains. “They are the ones who make advertisements,” says Correia. “They have the power to control who sees the ads and how they are going to expose the products.” But Jose Mata, 17, from Brighton High School, says that teens are not forced to smoke -- they do it because they want to. “Teens smoke because they want to fit in and to impress other people,” says Mata. Mata says that families can help kids quit cigarettes but that often the motivation has to come from within. “If you want to do something for your own self-benefit,” says Mata, “you should take it upon yourself to do it.”
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Light Skin. Nice eyes. Bright smile. Fifteen years old, he was just starting his life. “That was my baby,” Towanda Kellam, Lance “Duke” Hartgrove’s mother, was quoted as saying after the death of her son last summer. The flashpoint, as often happens these days, was a festering Facebook feud that ended on the street. Hartgrove’s days were ended by a stab wound to the chest, piercing his left lung and heart, allegedly committed by Rula Jones, 19, that caused Hartgrove to collapse and die in a parking lot on Malcolm X Boulevard, in Roxbury. At press time, Jones and his brother, Ilm Jones, 20, who allegedly assisted him in the attack, were both awaiting trial on manslaughter charges, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. This young teen, Hartgrove, of Dorchester, was very much known in the city of Boston. He got along with most people who came his way, and was friends with teens from across many neighborhoods. “He is a good boy to be around and he is caring and a loving person,” said an 18-year-old from Dorchester whose name -- like other teens in this article -- is being withheld for safety reasons. Hanging out and living every moment like it was his last was Hartgrove’s way of the game, teens say. Always around to put a smile on someone’s face. “Even on your worst day,” said an 18-year-old from Dorchester. In the little time Hartgrove was here, he made his imprint on people’s hearts. “He’s really cool,” said a 16-year-old from Dorchester. “And he’s not one of those people that tries to check you [out] if he doesn’t know you. He’s an awesome person to hang out with.” After Hartgrove’s death, teens and others tattooed his name on their bodies. They put up visuals on YouTube. They recorded songs in his honor. Hartgrove will always live in these streets of Boston, teens say. Every July 10, the anniversary of his death, will be a hard time for them.
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The verdict came as a complete shock to me. When I saw it on the news, I cried and cried. I didn’t know him but who wouldn’t get all teary-eyed hearing that. Even after all these months, one question still circulates through my head: “How can someone justify killing a 17-year-old?” Of course, my initial response was to express myself on social media. I didn’t write threats or hurtful comments to the defendant. I just expressed my condolences to the Martin family. Online, I happened to stumble across a letter written to the defendant. What stood out to me was the line: “I bet you never thought that by shooting a black male you’d end up inheriting all of his struggles. Enjoy your ‘freedom.’ ” This was signed at the bottom, “A black male who could’ve been Trayvon Martin.” As I read this I started to get teary, for it expressed how what he did will haunt him for the rest of his life. Even now, I sometimes catch myself thinking about why and how he got free. Then, all the things from the trial go through my mind and I have to stop myself because once again I am crying. In the end, I hope that Trayvon is up in heaven and that his family is coping with the loss of their child and trying to move forward with their lives in the healthiest way possible.
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