Hackney young people witness US presidential election history

Riding high on the euphoria of becoming newly-elected members of Hackney Youth Parliament (HYP), seven young people from the borough were last week able to witness first-hand the historic election of the United States of America’s first black president, Barack Obama.

Seven of the 22 members of HYP, who were elected by 30 percent of the young people aged 11-19 in Hackney on 16 October, were selected to go on an educational visit to Washington funded by the Youth Opportunities Fund in the week of the US presidential election.

The trip enabled the group to gain an understanding of an alternative political system and what motivates young people to become politically active. To look at the history of democracy in the UK and USA and to consider how a black presidential candidate could motivate BME young people to become politically aware and active.

The three young men and four young women aged 13-18, representing the four Area Forums in the borough, were chosen on the basis of their performance in the training and at the hustings for the HYP elections. The development of their individual manifesto, their election results as well as their commitment to the project.

Patrice Redman-Pinard, 14, member for Stoke Newington, said: “This was a brilliant experience for us, not just the lessons we will share with others but to know we were there to see history being made.”

Highlights of the trip included visits to youth groups and major monuments in Washington, including the White House, Capitol Building, Lincoln and WWII Memorials and the Arlington National Cemetery. Also, learning the skills to encourage voters to turn out for elections, and the chance to go to a local TV station to watch a live broadcast and participate in a live interview themselves.

“It was really inspiring,” said Ismael Zakaria, 16, member for North East, describing another of the group’s highlights; attending the final rally in Virginia. “And I got to shake his [president-elect Obama] hand.”

Back in Hackney, it’s down to business for the young people, who have been tasked with sharing experiences from their visit to help motivate other members of HYP to promote democracy and voting among young people in the borough.

The group will produce a documentary film of their experience that will be used in workshops in schools and youth groups to promote active citizenship, democracy and voting. They will help raise awareness of the qualities of leadership and address the apathy amongst young people that acts as a barrier to their involvement in the political process.