Philadelphia—Mary Pat Hector grew up in a community where gun violence was commonplace, and where young Black men often didn’t live to see age 21.
“By age 15, I’d gone to more funerals than graduations,” says Hector, a native of Stone Mountain, Georgia. “Officials in my neighborhood were trying to build a detention center instead of a recreation center. I got angry about it.”
Hector began organizing other youth and eventually made herself known to the Rev. Al Sharpton. She challenged him to do more for young people, and he in turn urged her to be the change she wished to see in the world.
Today, the 18-year-old is a rising sophomore at Spelman who juggles roles as a student government officer, and as the national youth director of the national action network (NAN), the organization Sharpton founded.
Hector is among the college students from across the country who are attending the Democratic National Convention this week.
While there’s been no official head count, they range from members of the NAACP Youth and College Division, to Millennials who represent some of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
“I had to be here,” said Lisa Napper, 21, who hails from Aurora, Colorado and will be a senior at Howard University when she returns this fall. “This is the number one event in politics and it only happens every four years. I wanted to contribute in a positive way.”
Napper was recently named a White House Champion of Change for a campaign she spearheaded on campus to address the national issue of sexual assault.
After returning from a semester abroad in South Africa, the former student government officer signed up as a volunteer with the Democratic National Committee, where she previously interned in Washington, D.C.
This week in Philadelphia, she’s worked behind the scenes, but has had the opportunity to go onto the convention floor, listen to the speakers, and view democracy at work. “you can feel the energy,” said Napper.
Alexis Robinson, 22, recently graduated from Hampton University with a degree in Communications.
The Upper Marlboro, Maryland resident traveled to the City of Brotherly Love with a few dozen peers, some of whom are collaborating on a multimedia project designed to raise awareness among young adults about the importance of voting.
“It’s been quite the learning experience,” she said of the convention. “I’ve met figures in media, civil rights and activists. The overall atmosphere has been tremendous.”
Hector, who spoke on a convention panel about voter mobilization in the black community, echoed a similar sentiment.
“I’ve met so many great people,” she said. “If young people are given the right opportunities and infrastructure, we’re able to be leaders on campus and in the community.”
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