A Student's Experience at the ACLU Summer Advocacy Institute 
Tuesday, October 2, 2018 at 10:45AM
Blue Ridge Virtual Governor's School

By: Abena Sekum Appiah-Ofori, BRVGS Class of 2019

I recently got back from Washington DC where I joined 850 other teens from all around the country for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Summer Advocacy Institute. It was a really amazing experience and I wanted to let you know what we did during the week.

My favorite part of the entire Institute was getting a chance to meet teens from all around the country who have a passion for social justice. It's always nice to know that the future of civil liberties is strong, fearless, and intersectional. The program included seminars and panel sessions with lawyers, journalists, and professors who specialize in civil rights, immigration rights and more. We got to choose interactive electives to attend each day and my favorite one was where we learned about Implicit Bias, Policing, and the School to Prison Pipeline.  We also had a video seminar with Edward Snowden where he spoke to us about privacy in the digital age and what it means to say dissent is patriotic. 

We stayed at the Washington DC Hilton Hotel during our panel and seminar sessions but we also visited a ton of places around the city. We went to The National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery as well as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Korea War Veterans Memorial. We also toured Howard University, American University, George Washington University and Georgetown University. 

Towards the end of the week, we had a seminar on the  Zero Tolerance Policy from the Trump Administration that resulted in over 2,000 children being separated from their families. We were then informed that we would be meeting with our senators to advocate for separated families. We got together with our state group, there were 22 other teens from VA, and planned out what we would say to Tim Kaine while advocating for immigration rights. On the last day, each state group went to speak with their representatives. The Virginia group briefly met Tim Kaine before he went on his lunch break and we spoke to his office on the importance of bringing transparency and accountability to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and reuniting the separated families. 

After everyone spoke to their senators on family separation we had a rally on Capitol Hill, wrapping up the week with a day of actions and great memories. I have been able to gain exposure to a wide range of constitutional rights issues that I wasn't aware existed and I had the opportunity to interact with ACLU staff through lectures and classroom discussions that immersed me in the world of government, policy advocacy, and legal decision making. Thank you all who supported me to be able to attend the Institute!

Article originally appeared on Blue Ridge Virtual Governor's School (http://www.brvgs.k12.va.us/).
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