Voices’ Blog

Young Advocates Take on the General Assembly

Posted:  -  By: Kristin Lennox

On a rainy Tuesday during the first full week of Virginia’s 2023 General Assembly session, eighteen advocates took the Virginia legislature by storm. This group, ranging in age from 13 to 21, included members of Virginia’s Youth in Action, Pretty Purposed, and some returning advocates who had previous virtual advocacy experience.


Youth advocates enjoyed a photo scavenger hunt that took them around Downtown Richmond. Photography by advocate Jonathan Jackson.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the day before our advocacy day, our staff and youth advocates convened for a full day of training. After some ice breakers and team building, advocates prepared for media opportunities with Shannon Strategies. The Voices policy team worked with advocates in smaller groups to review bills being presented this session and to practice storytelling and public speaking strategies. After a photo scavenger hunt that took youth around downtown Richmond, the group closed the day by making Valentines for legislators and doing final preparations for advocacy day.

Advocates and the Voices team had fun with Polaroid cameras, provided by The Spark Mill

Fired up and ready to go! Our Voices team rallied youth advocates for an early morning start from the Marriott. Photography by Ty Begley, Z2B Photography

Our Youth in Action Advocacy Day started with some grounding and rallying at the Marriott before heading over to the Pocahontas Building.

Broken into five smaller groups, advocates held an impressive 22 legislative meetings, with several of them meeting their own representatives. Advocates shared personal stories about their experiences with school belonging, school based and crisis mental health, and gun violence.

Zee and Nya Byrant met with their representative, Del. Hudson.

Advocacy often includes sharing difficult personal stories, but advocates Kayla, Kennedy, and Ava were able to find joy and laughter throughout the day.

Starting the day off on a high note with an 8:00 AM meeting with Del. Glass.

The day culminated in a bipartisan press conference led by VAYA Advocates, Ishika Vij and Heciel Nieves-Bonilla, on the urgent mental health needs of young people. They were joined in support by Senator McClellan, Delegate Brewer, Senator Favola, Senator McPike, and Delegate Rasoul.

“When I was facing a mental health crisis, my counselor was not properly equipped to connect me to resources, and instead, she waited until there was severe suicidal ideation to provide access to receive additional help. – Ishika Vij

“Some of the major problems those seeking [mental health support] face is the inequity of service, whether based on poverty level, race, occupation, gender, language, immigration status, transportation capacity, or zip code. – Heciel Nieves-Bonilla

Watch the full press conference here.

As Ishika and Heciel proceeded with an interview about student mental health for ABC8 News, advocates met with Secretary of Health & Human Services, Secretary John Littel, to hear more about how the Youngkin administration is approaching regional mental health needs, followed by a brief Q & A.

Finally, with a last rally through the Capitol, advocates were recognized and celebrated with an introduction in the House (by Delegate Adams) and in the Senate (by Senator Mason).

The Voices team is inspired and in awe of the incredible and courageous work that our advocates have already done this legislative season and are excited for more to come from Virginia’s Youth in Action. We are thankful to all the supporters and hosts we met at the General Assembly and the Capitol. We are so grateful to Ty Begley of Z2B Photography for capturing our most precious moments throughout the day. We are also thankful for our advocates’ greatest cheerleaders and champions – the parents, guardians, educators, and helpers that have shaped them into the passionate and bright young minds they are today.

Learn more about Virginia’s Youth in Action and sign up to receive policy news from the General Assembly every Friday in our Voices from the Capitol emails.

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