Photo Courtesy of Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman

On June 16, forty youth from New York, Atlantic City, Newark, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. joined together at the Thomas Jefferson Building to hear U.S. Representatives John Lewis, Cory Booker and Bonnie Watson Coleman speak about overcoming adversity and becoming young leaders. The youth were shown the movie “Selma” to remind them of the difficulties that African Americans faced trying to vote during the civil rights movement.

Representative Lewis recounted his forty arrests during the 60s, standing up for African American rights. He also spoke of his time as a Freedom Rider: the challenge his group posed by using segregated bus facilities in the Deep South and the harsh beatings they received from citizens while authorities looked the other way.

“I wanted to see those signs come down,” Lewis recalled. He also detailed the unfair “literacy test” African Americans were required to take before filling out a ballot at the voting booths.

Representative Cory Booker is an advocate for homeless youth. HE wants youth to know that, while striving to become young leaders, they often “chase after the big goals and [forget] the little things.” His goal was to encourage young people to remember why they decided to become leaders in the first place.

The youth in attendance later reflected on what the representatives had said. Many stated that they will now vote. Others expressed appreciation for the stories shared. One gentleman said he would “vocalize and speak up” for himself as well as others.

Members of Covenant House later assisted youth in registering to vote.