Summit grants students forum for change

Katherine Martin

The University of Alabama held its 11th annual Alabama Youth Summit July 30 through 31, Miriam Fry, a senior majoring in political science and the program’s director, said.

The Alabama Youth Summit provides a forum for Alabama’s outstanding high school leaders to discuss, debate and develop ideas that will positively change the state of Alabama and give them a voice in state issues and pubic policy, according to www.sga.ua.edu.

Fifty high school students attended the program and all of the students had previously participated in Alabama Girls State, Alabama Boys State or YMCA Youth in Legislature, Fry said.

Dorothy Griffith, a leader of the program along with David Wilson, Michael Niezgoda and Austin Greene, said she began working with Alabama Youth Summit last year as a member of Freshman Forum.

“Alabama Youth Summit is an incredible way for students to be able to actively participate in the legislative process,” Griffith said. “They come to the Summit from all different backgrounds and work together to pass legislation that will effect, change and positively impact themselves, their peers, their community and the state as a whole.”

Griffith said the program also allows participants to experience life on a college campus for a weekend and be introduced to school officials and campus leaders.

Fry said after attending the Alabama Youth Summit in the 2006 she knew she wanted to help pit with the program in the future.

“It literally persuaded me to come to school here,” Fry said. “I never went on an official campus tour. Alabama Youth Summit sold me and that’s all I needed,” Fry said.

Fry said it is important for young people to remember that all Alabama citizens have a voice and influence the future of our state no matter what age they are.

“I believe that legislators and politicians in the state of Alabama are more receptive to high school and college students than other age brackets,” Fry said, “Because, typically, this age group is the least engaged. It’s inspiring for legislators to hear from young people.”

The participants were divided into four committees: taxation and revenue policies/education, environmental concerns, health care and constitutional/judicial reform, Griffith said.

Each committee met and heard an expert on their topic in their opening sessions, Griffith said.

“The participants enjoyed listening and learning from Dr. John Wheat, Dr. Sam Addy and Dr. Bill Stewart as they shared their expertise on these subjects and the committees were greatly enriched by having them there,” Griffith said.

Fry said constitutional reform was a topic the students seemed particularly passionate about.

“The YMCA Youth Governor, Brennan McMahon, authored a resolution asking the Governor of Alabama to convene a special session to rewrite the Alabama constitution and it passed unanimously,” Fry said.

Fry said this being an election year had an influence on the Alabama Youth Summit.

“The hot-button issues like constitutional reform and teacher tenure definitely have a play in the Governor’s race in November and these issues were on the student’s minds when they arrived,” Fry said.

Griffith said she hoped that participants would leave Alabama Youth Summit with a greater appreciation for the legislative process.

“I hope that they are inspired to go out into their communities and not only share what they have learned, but also take action to see their thoughts and ideas are heard and implemented,” Griffith said.

To conclude the program, Alabama State Treasurer Kay Ivey spoke to the group of high school students.

“Kay Ivey has consistently supported the Alabama Girls State, Alabama Boys State and Youth in Government programs,” Griffith said. “She is an engaging speaker and continues to inspire students across the state.”

Ivey addressed the young men and women as leaders who have been deemed full of potential.

“A leader is someone who can see a need,” Ivey said. “You must listen, learn, lead and help.”

Ivey also presented the students with four questions to ask before prosing new ideas.

“You must first ask is it the truth, is it fair, will it build good will and strengthen friendships and will it be beneficial to all it concerns,” Ivey said.

Ellie Cowles, a participant from Tuscaloosa, attended Alabama Girl’s State and knew she wanted to participate in the program.

“I met new friends and have a new outlook on the legislative process,” Cowles said.