The Future Leaders Council of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital held an event Friday on civil rights issues, primarily those concerning Washington, D.C., in an effort to increase the group’s visibility to college and high school students.

“We really just want to get the ACLU out there to the community, have better visibility and create an engaging atmosphere where people our age can learn about some really serious issues,” ZoeDobkin (SFS ’16), chair of the Future Leaders Council and organizer of the event, said.

Speakers talked about D.C.’s push for statehood, online privacy rights and the high number of students who drop out of public schools and enter the criminal system.

“As a young person that’s involved in politics and in public service I want to speak to the virtues of getting involved in service and taking risks to have a career that reflects your values,” Nate Bennett-Fleming, the District of Columbia’s shadow representative, said.

The shadow representative is recognized as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives by the District but not by the federal government. The District also has a non-voting congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who is allowed to propose legislation but cannot vote.

“Six hundred thousand people live here, but we don’t participate in American democracy and we don’t have a voice in Congress,” Bennett-Fleming said.

Josh Burch, who runs the organization Neighbors United for D.C. Statehood, also added that representation was crucial to the rights of D.C. citizens.

“Everyone above 18 has equal rights as U.S. citizens, except for those of us that live in the shadows of the nation’s capital,” he said. “We need to build up a grassroots network of young people in all eight wards to tell Congress we want full and equal treatment.”

Khaliah Barnes, a lawyer at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, discussed Internet privacy rights at the event.

“I’d like [students] to understand the landscape of student privacy on the Internet, their rights concerning their information and how it’s disseminated over the Internet,” she said.

Barnes emphasized the importance of awareness during her speech, mentioning that both a user’s and his or her friends’ Facebook privacy settings affect the visibility of posted material.

William Lawson, a member of the Phelps Stokes’ National Homecomers Academy, an organization that helps homecomers — convicted criminals who are re-entering society — adjust to life after being released from prison, talked about his experience with the school-to-prison pipeline, which refers to the phenomena of students leaving public schools and later entering the juvenile and criminal system.

“I directly have a relationship with this subject, being a homecomer  — I went to jail at an early age,” he said. “When you start thinking about the school-to-prison pipeline, they don’t talk about it too much, but it’s a true reality affecting a lot of young disadvantaged kids in the District of Columbia.”

Some students who attended the event said it opened their eyes to the District’s problems.

“I felt the event was informative and engaging. It captured many of the problems faced by D.C. as well as the solutions the city needs,” Austin Baker (SFS ’16) said. “Following the event I hope to take a closer look at the D.C. public school system to see what is actually being done to address these problems.”

For those in the audience who were new to the District, the event also served as an introduction to local issues.

“I really enjoyed the presentation because, being new to D.C., it allowed me to become aware of issues I didn’t even know existed before, such as the D.C. statehood concern,” Zoe Rosen (COL ’16) said.

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