“Our voices matter”: A students’ reflection from the 2018 Civil Rights Pilgrimage

As part of our youth leadership blog series, Best Starts is bringing you a reflection from Isaac Sotelo–a Kentwood High School senior and student leader with our partner Institute for Community Leadership. Isaac marched alongside civil rights leaders and members of Congress at the 2018 Faith and Politics Institute Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage. Isaac met with organizers who directly participated in major events that helped create the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as they visited historic sites from the Civil Rights Movement.

Building a community where young people are valued, respected, and engaged as leaders of today is fundamental to our collective vision for Best Starts for Kids. In this blog series, we explore how we can support the young people in our lives and communities. We’ll discuss concrete actions you can take, resources and tips for adults, and reflections on what it means to build this community together. If you have a question, want to suggest a topic for this series, or just want to give a shout-out to a young person doing great things in your community, let us know in the comments below.


Written by Isaac Sotelo–a reflection from his pilgrimage, and how he’ll apply these lessons as he works to advocate for young people and build civic engagement in King County. 

The current state of America requires youth, adults and elders of different races to work together in an intergenerational, interracial manner to build a stronger movement and nation. We are all interconnected. What affects one directly affects all directly. My name is Isaac Sotelo and I was selected by the Institute for Community Leadership to represent Congressman Adam Smith, the 9th Congressional District on the 2018 Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage. Together with 30 members of Congress, I traveled to historic Civil Rights Movement sites in Memphis, Tennessee, Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, Alabama. I had the job of facilitating the Institute’s Civic Engagement Circles with members of Congress. We addressed the question, “What can we do to get more of us to vote?”

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This year, myself and my fellow students, adults, and elders at the Institute for Community Leadership are taking a note from these leaders. We have created a civic engagement campaign, To Us, You Matter: VOTE! where community organizations partner with schools to develop civic engagement opportunities for youth. We are registering all eligible students in our high schools to vote! We are meeting with our elders, learning from them, speaking up, and standing up! We are facilitating Civic Engagement Circles in homes, among community and cultural groups. We are educating others on the rights, and responsibilities of voting.

Dr. King challenges us to honor those who fought for our right to vote by carrying out the task assigned to us by history and letting our world community know, that our voice matters! Together we are better, stronger.

To get involved with our campaign, call us at 253 872 3612, or write me at Isaac@icleadership.org. To us, You Matter: VOTE!

Isaac Sotelo is a senior at Kentwood High School. He has led numerous civic engagement projects over the past four years, including establishing a student-led voter registration drive at Kentwood. Sotelo also teaches nonviolence classes with the Institute for Community Leadership throughout the year.

Isaac is one of 60 students in Institute for Community Leadership’s Best Starts-funded GET LEADERSHIP program, a community based program which strengthens inter-generational, interracial social relationships to increase civic engagement and success in school, and resiliency.


Read all the blog posts in our youth leadership series:

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