Portland Empowered encourages high school students to speak out about policy change and become thought leaders.
PORTLAND, Maine — Balqies Mohamed spent a rainy Monday studying.
“AP Bio, from now on,” she said. The student smiled as she opened her textbook in the living room of the Portland family home.
A senior at Deering High School on the other side of town, Mohamed’s journey involved more than just his knowledge of cells.
“I was a very opinionated freshman and I was like, ‘Everyone needs to hear me,'” she said.
That year, she brought her opinions, as well as an open mind, to Portland Empowered, a nonprofit organization embedded in the city’s three public high schools that invites students to voice their political concerns and become leaders. leaders.
“I definitely wasn’t a leader when I was a freshman joining Portland Empowered,” Mohamed said. “But it made me the leader I am now.”
Now, Mohamed leads discussions between his peers from each of the three schools who meet regularly in a relaxed atmosphere.
Elisabeth Redwood, director of youth programs at Portland Empowered, explained how the organization plays music and brings snacks to meetings. At least they did.
Redwood’s mood plummeted as she described an energetic room full of teenagers reduced to Zoom chat windows on each other’s screens as COVID continued to threaten society.
Although Redwood is still waiting for the group’s first reunion in 2022, she said Portland Empowered will try to carry on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“He was very adamant about education reform,” she said. “…So we’re working a lot with the students to amplify what they already know and kind of bring out a bit of activism. But it’s really on a small scale, just to organize them on Policy making happens in the school district and city council.
Mohamed said she will study the composition of governments instead of organizations in the future.
“I hope I will study constitutional law,” she said. “And continue to reform the systems that don’t work.”
Portland Empowered students plan to join the Young People‘s Caucus to meet with state lawmakers Jan. 27.