No Decision Without Us

Ramiro Vazquez Jr.
Ramiro Vazquez Jr. is challenging the city of Minneapolis to listen to youth voices in policymaking. (ThreeSixty Journalism/Dymanh Chhoun)

When Ramiro Vazquez Jr. began working with Minneapolis Youth Congress six years ago, he did so with a fervent passion to empower youth to advocate on their own behalf. 

MYC is a community of 50 young adults from Minneapolis working to influence policies and decisions that affect youth. The members range from grades eight through 12 and serve on seven different committees: education, housing, safety, employment, transportation, green initiatives and health. 

“Our motto is, ‘No decision about us without us,’” Vazquez said. “They work together to kind of change the landscape of Minneapolis and around issues that affect them.” 

At the end of 2019, MYC compiled polls and interviews with Minneapolis youth into a 70-page Youth Master Plan. Through their research, the youth council members identified six priority areas they want policymakers in Minneapolis to focus their efforts on improving; two of those are gender and sexuality inclusivity, as well as culturally responsive approaches to issues. Next, MYC will release a second part of the master plan, which will include a complete status report of youth data and policy recommendations for their local representatives. 

When Chelsea Chingwe moved to Minnesota from Zimbabwe in eighth grade, MYC was one of the first programs she joined. Even now, as a sophomore at Edison High School, Chingwe’s still blown away by the opportunities she’s had to find her voice. 

“At that time I didn’t really see myself as taking this big leadership role,” she said. “But with me coming from Zimbabwe, I was really underrepresented and the Minneapolis YouthCongress was a platform for me to represent myself and take charge.” 

Within their program, MYC serves every demographic in the city of Minneapolis, which Vazquez said brings an incredibly diverse set of experiences and identities to the table. 

“You may go to Edison, another student goes to Southwest, but you’re still dealing with the same impact of prejudice or racism from classmates or sometimes educators, and they can kind of find that common ground and that solidarity to work together and succeed together,” he said. “Our youth come together, and they don’t see the differences, they see the similarities.” 

Chelsea Chingwe
Chelsea Chingwe, a sophomore at Edison High School, is working with MYC to change her community. (ThreeSixty Journalism/Dymanh Chhoun)

Chingwe said MYC has been instrumental in bringing about some major changes in Minneapolis, including helping to raise the tobacco age to 21 and ensuring high school students are able to receive free bus cards. 

“We are directly doing the things that we say we’re doing — making youth have a voice, meeting with people in power,” she said. “We are the people of tomorrow. And, if they keep messing up things right now, what’s the future for us?” 

Seeing the important work youth and coordinators are able to accomplish together brings Vazquez the “truest sense of community.” 

The future? There’s nothing to stress about. 

“This generation, they’re taking the bull by the horns, and they’re speaking their truths. They’re holding those who haven’t done anything — adults like myself — accountable,” Vazquez said. “I feel in good hands with the youth that I work with and the future of the world.”