By Fawn Pattison
Maya Nair is a senior at Enloe High School in Raleigh. Her experiences on the NC Child Youth Advisory Council, the school newspaper, and as a youth attorney in Teen Court have made her a passionate advocate for youth. In the spring of 2018, Maya and her colleagues on the YAC used a detailed survey to convince the Wake County School Board to modernize its tobacco policies. She’s hoping to study pre-law and journalism in college next year, with an eye towards a career that will allow her to work on fixing the court system that so often fails people her age.
MN: To be an advocate means that I’m representing my community. The community has done so much for me. They’re provided me an education, my family has provided me so much, my friends, my community has provided me so many opportunities that I’ve been able to get into. Advocacy is a way for me to give back, to provide awareness to issues in my community that need attention. By being an advocate I have the opportunity to do that for my community.
NCC: When you all went to the School Board to propose a new policy, did you anticipate that they would listen to you?
MN: No. I was actually really scared. Throughout middle school and high school you do all these “mock” things – mock trial, mock student government. You never really have a voice. This was one of the first times where I was really doing something. With advocacy, you always hear about amendments not being taken up, where you put so much effort into it and it’s not successful, and you have to take it back and recycle it. I was really scared going into this, because of all the work we’d put in over the past two years. I wasn’t sure if they were going to take it, but they ended up taking our work. I was really excited and thrilled when I saw it in paper form. That was really awesome.
NCC: What do you think NC Child or other orgs could do to promote youth using their voices as advocates?
MN: The power of believing in us. As a youth sometimes it’s hard to get adults to listen to us and let us participate in a lot of organizations. Many times when organizations put on events, they overlook the youth part. When you have youth involved, it’s creating the generation who can advocate for it through their own peers. Not only that, but you’re building the next generation who when they go to power they can do a lot more. Building it up from the bottom level is where organizations should be starting.
NCC: Who inspires you?
MN: My mom. My mom came to the United States to pursue her education as a single woman without a husband. Back then India was a really conservative country. I find it really empowering that she was able to do that. She came here with no family, and it’s just something that I find really inspiring that she was able to do so much. She’s such a great person and she’s so strong. I really want to be as strong as she is.
Support NC Child’s work to lift up youth voices for all NC’s children. https://www.ncchild.org/bethevoice2018/