Teenage Dream

What do young people really care about? Everything. Photographer Kholood Eid spoke with members of the next generation about the issues that matter most to them.

Kids have a lot on their minds these days. As a photography teacher at an after-school program that is part of the Bronx Documentary Center, I hear kids talk about how bad it is that people are getting deported ... and I hear them whisper the president’s name like he’s a villain.

Even before the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School turned their tragedy into a national movement, giving young people a platform like they’ve never had before, I’d been wondering what sorts of issues young people really care about today, and what sorts of experiences contributed to their political awakenings.

So I decided to ask them directly, traveling to speak with teenagers in Missouri, Pennsylvania, and New York. In the South Bronx, I listened as a 17-year-old discussed the role that institutionalized and systemic racism has on the education and advancement of a community of minorities. In Troy, Missouri, another 17-year-old excitedly named his favorite Republican politicians the way one hears other kids rattle off their favorite celebrities. In Brooklyn, I watched a 14-year-old stand at a podium in front of hundreds of people calling for action to combat reckless driving after his friend was killed in a car accident. The crowd was silent, and his voice sounded both fragile and confident. When I went to his home to interview and photograph him a couple of weeks later, he had an engagement scheduled right afterward: a rally at city hall.

These young folks have so much to say about so many things; sexism, racism, class inequality, a flawed foster-care system, environmental justice, gun regulation, and abortion rights were just a handful of topics they brought up unprompted. Though their political positions—not to mention their racial, economic, and geographic backgrounds—may differ, overall, a feeling of hope outweighs that of resignation.


 

 

TAYLOR TURNER, 17

Taylor lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, for her freshman year before moving out of state. Taylor wants to be a lawyer with a political-science major and someday work with the ACLU. She is also a member of a group called Young Democrats of Pennsylvania. Our conversation focused on gun control—a friend of hers was one of the 17 students killed at Marjory Stoneman on February 14—political preparation for young people, and recurring issues of inequality, such as the pay gap between men and women.

ON GUN CONTROL “One of the biggest things that I’m fighting for right now is gun reform. One of my friends [at Marjory Stoneman Douglas], Helena Ramsay, was one of the 17 victims. So I’ve been a major advocate for gun control. I went to the [March for Life] in D.C., and I’m definitely just trying to spread the word about the issue. Hopefully this time will be different and we’ll get some change finally made. I spoke at a town hall to a couple of local representatives, and one of them, Ryan Costello, recently said that he’s not gonna be running for reelection … we don’t know how that’s gonna go, but Pennsylvania’s turning more Democratic, so hopefully that will help change some things. It’s been tough, but just being able to talk to other people that have experienced [the effects of gun violence and to] hear other people’s stories, especially yesterday ... it brought [us] together. Even though I’ve never spoken to these people in person, you definitely feel more connected to them.”

 

JOSHUA CHILDS, 18

Joshua lives in Philadelphia and attends a private school for foster children. He wants to become a filmmaker someday and currently helps produce episodes for POPPYN, a youth-led news show. While the majority of our conversation focused on the problems in the foster-care system, Joshua touched on other issues, including environmental justice and the school-to-prison pipeline.

ON THE FOSTER-CARE SYSTEM “No parental supervision is a bad thing for a growing mind. Kids were just doing whatever they weren’t supposed to do. If they wanted to leave and go to a different city for a couple of days, the foster parent wouldn’t know. You should always know where your child is. I understand that social workers have large caseloads, and they’re not just worried about one child. But emotional support is needed a lot. Even when it comes to the parents. You have to earn their trust, and they have to earn your trust. If you bring them in, and they don’t feel like part of the family, then that’s going to be an issue. Of course they’re gonna act out, because they don’t feel welcome.”


 

BRICYN JOHNSON, 16

Bricyn lives in Florissant, Missouri, in the northern suburbs of St. Louis, and attends a private Christian high school. She’s involved in a range of extracurricular activities, including a club called SEED (Students Educating Each Other About Diversity), and hopes to someday own her own business or become a talent scout for a music label. The majority of our conversation focused on the importance of diversity and learning at a young age to interact with others from varying backgrounds. Other issues of importance to Bricyn include the Black Lives Matter movement, the media’s negative portrayal of St. Louis, and black female power and representation in the workforce.

ON POLICE VIOLENCE “Police violence matters to me because I have brothers and my dad, and I find it scary how they could be out somewhere and the police can get upset with them about anything. I have seen in the news how people have tried to go to the grocery store and provide for their kids ... but then their lives have been taken from them, even when they’re trying to comply with the police and do what they say. I want my friends and my brothers and my other family members to be safe when they go outside. ... I am always trying to tell them, like, ‘Make sure you are doing this when you get pulled over.’”


 

JULIE LOZANO, 17

Julie lives in the South Bronx and attends a charter high school. She wants to be a filmmaker when she grows up and is involved in documentary photography and film programs. Though my conversation with Julie focused on systemic racism and the need for affordable education, she also discussed how polarizing contemporary politics can be. In 2016, she and her friends considered protesting an upcoming visit by then-presidential candidate Ted Cruz and wrote a letter to the principal of their school arguing that Mr. Cruz’s ideas “harm our community.” The visit was eventually canceled.

ON EDUCATIONAL INEQUALITY “If we had better education that wasn’t based off of, like, other people’s income ... we would be living in a way better world. People don’t choose to be ignorant. I used to feel like people just weren’t trying hard enough or that they just didn’t care about the world. But it’s not that. People aren’t given the opportunity to really speak or the opportunity to learn. I think that is really unfair. I feel like a lot of the ignorance and all the anger in the world really stem from the miseducation of lots of communities.”


 

CONOR MARTIN, 17

Conor lives in Troy, Missouri, and attends a public high school. He is the president of the Lincoln County Young Conservatives and is hoping to go into politics and become a representative or a senator. (He wants to be president of the United States someday.) Conor counts Rand Paul and Ron Paul as two of his favorite politicians. “They’re very constitutionally minded,” he says. “They run as Republicans, but really I think they’re independents.” Issues that concern Conor include abortion, constitutional liberties, the national deficit, and politicians who waver on their positions in order to gain votes. He also believes teachers should have the option to carry concealed weapons to protect against school shootings.

ON INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM “If it doesn’t affect your life, it’s not your business. If it doesn’t affect your liberty, it’s not your business. If it doesn’t affect your pursuit of happiness, it’s none of your business. And it goes in that order. Your right to life comes before someone else’s right to liberty. If I were to be completely honest, the one key issue that really got me involved was abortion. I am pro-life for the most part. The only exception that I would ever make to that is if the mother’s life is in danger. And even then, I think that she should be informed that like, okay, this is still a baby, and you should explore all your options. However, that is the only time I am able to compromise on my pro-life issue.”


 

ZANE WALKER, 14

Zane lives in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn and attends a private school. Zane, who’s involved in Families for Safe Streets, a group supported by the organization Transportation Alternatives, discussed the issue of reckless drivers in New York and the personal impact it has had on him: a friend of his was killed when a driver jumped a curb. He also spoke about global warming and gun safety—he was one of the planners of his school’s March 14 walkout—as well as concerns about artificial intelligence, conflict in the Middle East, and how children need to be a part of the conversation.

ON TRAFFIC SAFETY “I am involved in Families for Safe Streets, an organization based in New York trying to fight traffic violence. This is because my really good friend Lucian Merryweather was killed by a reckless driver who jumped the curb and crushed him and his brother. His brother survived, but he died. It really personally affected me because I knew him so well. And so that really drove me to be a part of Families for Safe Streets and speak at all these rallies, because I feel like this is how to get the message across. Because people listen to children, and we need to take all the opportunities we can to speak about things that we are passionate about because people will listen to us. When I am speaking at rallies and when I am speaking at places like city hall, and places like Albany, besides being nervous I feel like I am really representing all the people in New York who really feel like this is not fair. I feel like if I can get the message across, I just feel like it is really a good thing to do. I want to take as many opportunities to do things like that in my community and in the world.”


 

YOUSEF ABOUAMRA, 15

Yousef lives in Florissant, Missouri, and attends a public school. He wants to be a mechanic because he like cars and enjoys working with his hands. Yousef is concerned about violence and crimes in his neighborhood, but he doesn’t think guns are the problem. He does think there are places and ways for them to be sold in the US.

ON NEIGHBORHOOD GUNS “I think that it’s just the people. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. A gun isn’t going to walk up and shoot somebody. A person is going to grab that gun and pull the trigger. The violence where we are is like the violence everywhere. The same things that happen here are the same things that happen in Chicago or Wisconsin. This is not a very good area, but it’s not a very bad area. ... if you just call somebody to get you a gun, they can probably get you a gun in an hour or two. It’s not hard to get a gun here.”


 

TORI JESSIE, 15

Tori lives in Florissant, Missouri, and attends the same private Christian high school as Bricyn. In addition to discussing her struggle over whether to kneel during the national anthem as a form of protest, she also talked about the perception of her neighborhood. (Florissant is close to Ferguson, Missouri.)

ON PROTESTING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM “I go to a predominantly white school and there is not a lot of African-Americans or blacks in the school. So that is target number one. Last year, when Colin Kaepernick knelt, a girl on the volleyball team knelt too, and that caused so much drama. And then the football team began to kneel. It didn’t reach the cheerleaders because we were kind of like, OK, we are not about to get mixed up in all of this. I was a cheerleader, and I had wanted to kneel, but something told me not to because it would have made life worse for me at the school, so I didn’t. People thought we were kneeling out of disrespect to the flag and disrespect to the veterans that served our country. That was completely not the reason why. We were kneeling—well, I mean—they were kneeling because in the Pledge of Allegiance it says “justice for all,” and we weren’t seeing justice. So we were speaking out about that justice. I guess it was kind of selfish I didn’t kneel. What was going through my mind was, How much trouble will I be in if I kneel? My heart was racing at the thought [of] what could happen. My sister was coming to the school the next year. What would that do to her name?”


 

HAILEE STRINGER, 16

Hailee lives in Salem, Missouri, a town with a population of fewer than 5,000, where she attends a public high school. A cheerleader who is also involved with the National Honor Society, Hailee wants to be a pediatric audiologist when she grows up. (Her younger sister has had hearing problems all her life.) The majority of our conversation focused on school shootings, and how guns are not the issue; a lot of people in her community use them for hunting. Hailee also brought up the topic of bullying.

ON SCHOOL SAFETY “I think that schools should have more security, especially at the front office where people mainly come in. They should have metal detectors and they should have more backpack checks, because anybody can just bring a gun or a knife in their backpack and nobody would know. I feel like they should definitely do more drills. We do drills, but it’s only in one specific hour. If we were in another place when this was happening, we wouldn’t know what to do or where to go or how to be safe during those times.”


 

LUNA CARDONA, 11

Luna lives in the South Bronx and attends a private school, where she is involved in an after-school documentary-photography class; when she grows up she wants to be either a fashion designer or an animator. Our conversation focused on racism, sexism, and the correlation between the two. Luna believes that it’s up to parents to help educate kids, regardless of gender, about what sexism is and how to address it early on.

ON SEXISM “The first time I realized that boys and girls are treated differently I think was when I was in third or second grade and I watched a Martin Luther King Jr. video. I realized that racism and segregation and sexism was all a part of that, and Martin Luther King Jr. was trying to solve that. I think it can change, but it’s probably going to take a lot of years, since it took a lot of years just for women just to be able to have jobs. It’ll most likely take a lot of years for sexism to finally be solved, and for men and women to treat each other equally and not think that one has hierarchy over the other.”

 

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