Voices’ Blog

Youth Power, Promise, and Policy – Celebrating Young Leaders in Advocacy this Session

Posted:  -  By: Kristin Lennox

Young people were seen and heard all over the General Assembly (GA) this session. The Voices Advocacy & Engagement Team lead our third annual youth advocacy day on January 16. On President’s Day, we were honored to support Pretty Purposed with their third annual advocacy efforts alongside Voices’ 2023 Amplify Award awardees, Elijah and Aaron during the Fund Our Schools Lobby Day. 

Virginia’s Youth in Action Advocacy Day 

Virginia’s Youth in Action with program staff, Flo, Sophia, and Kristin

This year’s members of Virginia’s Youth in Action (VAYA) traveled from different corners of the state to convene in Richmond on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. VAYA alum, Jaynae, who returned to support this year’s efforts, acknowledged the federal holiday as a day of action. Also returning were MJ and Aaliyana who have now advocated at the GA for their third year in a row! The returning advocates supported this year’s VAYA through community building and practicing their storytelling for the next day of advocacy. 

Advocates began at the downtown Marriott early the next morning. We joined together for breakfast and shared powerful affirmations before starting the day of advocacy. Collectively, VAYA advocates met with 16 legislative offices. Sophia, Voices’ Advocacy & Engagement Manager, spent months assisting VAYA members with preparing their powerful remarks and stories. VAYA advocates focused on areas such as: 

  • Youth mental health, in schools and crisis services 
  • School infrastructure 
  • Language access 
  • Black maternal health & health equity
  • Child welfare and foster care 
  • Special education staffing and resources 

Voices staff and Virginia’s Youth in Action pose together after the bipartisan mental health press conference

In a bipartisan press conference focused on mental health, Amirah and Liz shared personal stories and calls to action in favor of more accessible and diverse mental health resources for young people in Virginia. Amirah expanded upon the necessity of more diverse therapists and clinicians for all Virginians, while Liz uplifted the need for more language-accessible resources in rural regions. 

(From left to right) Jojo and Sophia meeting with Del. Rae Cousins

“I enjoyed how supportive everyone was, even the legislators” – Jojo 

Reflecting on the day, VAYA members shared that being in person with their peers was an incredible experience. They also expressed immense gratitude to the Advocacy & Engagement Team and Voices for their support leading to and throughout the day. VAYA members shared that it was empowering to see a diverse representation of women and femmes in policy and advocacy during our time together. Participants remarked on how supported they felt. They expressed surprise and appreciation for how receptive lawmakers were to their dreams and ideas, and how empowered they felt being able to tell their stories.

Fund Our Schools Coalition Lobby Day & Rally 

An aerial view of advocates preparing for the Fund Our Schools Rally

On President’s Day, the Advocacy & Engagement Team stewarded youth and staff from Pretty Purposed, a youth mentoring agency focused on supporting young girls and femmes throughout the Southside region. We participated in the first lobby day and rally hosted by the Fund Our Schools Coalition. Youth leaders and co-presidents of Voters of Tomorrow Virginia, Elijah and Aaron, supported the day of lobbying. Raegan, Lauren, & Khloe discussed their hopes for improving their schools and communities including: 

  • School infrastructure 
  • Nutrition and access to clean water 
  • Recreational activities, opportunities, and spaces 
  • Equitable education resources 
  • School-based mental health 

Pretty Purposed staff and participants pose with Del. Sewell after a warm reception and meeting

That afternoon, Elijah and Aaron joined community members and educators to deliver empowering and thought-provoking remarks during a rally at the Capitol Bell Tower. Pretty Purposed members proudly volunteered to hold the “Fund Our Schools” banner in support. 

“As my friends move throughout the day, some will run into times when they are in dire need of a counselor. From here, they will go meet with this amazing woman that has a caseload of 350 students, despite the recommended ratio being only 250.” – Elijah 

Co-presidents of Voters of Tomorrow, Elijah and Aaron, deliver remarks at the Fund Our Schools Rally

“Rise up! Take your stand! Use your voice! Get active! And do not let anyone stop you! Right now, we need you to amplify the voices of young people and educators.” – Aaron 

As the day of advocacy ended, Raegan (a Pretty Purposed participant and student body Treasurer) remarked on her new interest and passion for influencing policy. She discussed her piqued interest in exploring the House or Senate page programs so she could be in the exciting atmosphere again. 

Pretty Purposed posing at the iconic Barbara Johns statue

Young people are the experts in what their schools and communities need to thrive, and we can see their passion and enthusiasm for influencing the systems that affect us all. Voices has deep gratitude for the everyday champions who empower and encourage young people to help develop them into leaders and advocates for their schools and communities. We remain impressed, challenged, and changed by witnessing and listening to young advocates. 

If you are or you know a young person eager to make positive changes in Virginia policy, we invite you to connect with our team! 


Kristin Lennox,
Director of Engagement,




Sophia Booker,
Advocacy & Engagement Manager,

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