by Ricky Yoo, Youth Advisory Council member
“By listening and working with young people, we can get closer to creating the conditions that all young people need to have a real chance to succeed in school and life.”
-John Gompert, President and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance
“You, French Fry. Me, Hamburger,” I proclaimed to my pre-K teacher. She gawked at me with awe. I stared blankly at her as she started to jump and holler, “Ricky! Yes! You, French Fry. Me, Hamburger!” I was stunned, and she, elated.
It was the first time I spoke a complete phrase to my teacher.
As a timid, young boy, my English was elementary and my social skills, even worse. Thus, I spent my words wisely, to persuade teachers to bring me food or request a toy of my choice from the treasure box. But much to the disappointment to me and my peers, my voice would remain buried throughout my adolescence.
Like many pre-teens, I struggled with social anxiety, and I secluded myself. My thoughts were dear to me and my own, and it would remain this way until my freshmen year of high school.
My voice came from humble origins – the bathroom mirror. While my mother disapproved of my loud orations, a toothbrush, a half-spent bar of soap, the allegedly tropical scent of hand wash, were all a familiar audience. Unfortunately, the congeniality of my toiletries starkly contrasted with the judgemental remarks of my classmates. Their mockery, I tolerated, but my feelings of inadequacy, I did not. With hours of practice and deliberation, the stuttering and mumbles were replaced with ferocity and power. Like the budding of a new relationship, I grew a fondness for public speaking. This would leak into different facets of my life.
I developed confidence in my role as a leader as more people began to listen to my voice. My inhibitions dissolved, and my social exposure procured an interest in leadership. The strength of my voice directly correlated with my ability to captivate my teammates, and, indirectly, manage them as well. Workshop and speaking engagement opportunities arose, and, with microphone in hand, I intended to advocate for youth voice.