2008 Youth Scholar - Jonathan Lykes, Shaw High School, East Cleveland, OH

Jonathan Lykes

"Jonathan first came to our attention at a program featuring Mary Beth Tinker, of the Supreme Court free speech case Tinker v. Des Moines. Jonathan opened the program, a tribute to free speech and students' rights, with a poem he wrote especially for the occasion. Needless to say, Ms. Tinker was moved to tears – the words of a youth activist brought tears to the eyes of an icon of youth activism."


> "Perception" (A Poem by J. Lykes)
Learn about the other 2008 Youth Activist Scholarship winners > >

Jonathan Lykes, of East Cleveland, OH, is committed to educational equality, voters' rights and increased opportunities for all students, regardless of their socio-economic background. Jonathan helped found a statewide action group that promotes student political activism, Youth Voices for Justice, and has traveled across Ohio educating young people and lawmakers alike on complex issues ranging from increasing the minimum wage, to educational equality. Additionally, Jonathan helped the ACLU of Ohio launch their Student Poll Worker Initiative. He worked with ACLU staff and the media to share his experience as a student poll worker, and to urge other students to join in. Jonathan's participation in the ACLU of Ohio's Student Poll Worker Press Conference was critical in convincing 88 county board of elections members to do a better job of getting young people involved in the election process. Jonathan is also a talented spoken word artist, whose many poems celebrate civil liberties, inspiring his peers to take a more critical look at their own rights.

Jonathan's Scholarship Essay

In the short seventeen years of my life, I believe I have an unusual outlook on diversity for my age. I was born in Los Angeles County, California. As a young child I was moved to the south side of Chicago. Seven years later, I was moved to the suburban area of Atlanta. And five years later I found myself in the urban poverty stricken city of East Cleveland, Ohio. I have been in East Cleveland for three years. Living in so many different places taught me to see both sides of life. In Metro Atlanta, I was interacting with "The Privileged" everyday and became friends with people in my school who had millionaire parents. When I moved to East Cleveland and say the very opposite, I noticed something as a 13-year-old eighth grader that would change my life forever. What I saw in Metro Atlanta and what I see in East Cleveland was not fair and was not equal. I also noticed that this inequality perpetuates the stereotypes and tensions that people have between ethic groups and racial backgrounds. I knew in my ninth grade year that something had to change. I did not know how I was going to begin changing it, but I did know I had to try. I always use the quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., "Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere." I wanted to start my efforts with youth, my peers, the future of this country.

For the last two years I have been working with a political non-partisan action group called Youth Voices for Justice. In the end of my junior year I became the statewide student organizer for this non-profit group that gets students across the sate to be involved politically. It all started with the efforts in Ohio to raise the minimum wage. We started by getting thousands of petitions signed to get the issue on the ballot. We had an event for the thousands of youth in Ohio that got petitions signed. I got to do a poem on the steps of the statehouse about the minimum wage when we handed in our petitions. The poem was titled "5.15 is not enough, Economic Justice." Once it was on the ballot, we did a survey across the state. The survey consisted of questions that asked the "youth vote" (people between the ages of 18 and 25) a series of questions that would raise their awareness of the issues and candidates that were running. We had over 10,000 surveys that students from around the state conducted. It's frustrating to me when I see the media saying that "youth do not care about voting" or "the candidates do not care about the young people because they won't vote anyway." I pledge my youth to proving these statements wrong. The minimum wage issue passed and Youth Voices grew in numbers and in power across the state. I was happy to be a part of a group that is committed to making a difference. This small victory allows me to be better equipped to fight against the injustice and inequality that I became familiar with living in suburban Atlanta and the urban East Cleveland.

In 2007 Youth Voices for Justice made their "Youth Agenda" expressing all the needs for youth to be successful socially and economically for at least the next ten years of our lives. Once our youth agenda was made, we then made an effort to meet with legislators to try to get our issues on the biennium budget for Ohio. Unfortunately, most of them came off as patronizing me and all that I stood for. But I did not let that discourage me. I, along with the youth around the state, fought until we were heard. We finally got someone to listen to us. It was good timing because the one to listen to the youth of Ohio was Governor Strickland and his wife, first lady Frances Strickland. The governor wanted to know more about our stands on how we wanted to raise the graduation rate for African American males in Ohio. On the Youth Agenda, we stated that there needs to be a greater emphasis on providing personal tutors, smaller class sizes, and peer mentors. The governor started an initiative to raise the graduation rate, and put a lot of money into seeing that it will come to pass. He has a state conference announcing his plans. I got to meet with the governor at his house the morning of the conference, and that day I spoke at the conference in front of more than two thousand people from across the state about teaching youth history, culture and self-discipline. I also performed my original poem called "perception."

It was encouraging to see a youth voice finally being heard. This year Youth Voices has revived our Youth Agenda. We added and revised things like living in a multi-cultured society and school counselors for mental and social health problems. I developed the slogan for our next campaign in 2008, called "No Vote, No Voice." We will be going into high schools across the state and getting students that will be of voting age by the presidential election to register to vote and talking to them about why voting is important.

I will continue to fight for justice for all people until I am dead. There is no greater calling to love for.

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