Anyone who has ever been a teenager knows those years are hard. I can say from experience that some teens have more challenges than others. Struggling to graduate high school, violence, peer pressure, bullying - these are all issues that millions of teens face every day.
In Akeelah and the Bee, I played a girl who faced many of these obstacles and overcame them with the help of her friends and family. While I have been blessed in my own life, the experience of portraying Akeelah opened my eyes to the difficulties many of America’s youth face.
In this election year, issues that affect youth, like jobs, the cost of going to college and civic involvement, are hot topics around our family’s dinner table. It is so important to make sure the youth voice is part of the conversation. Tomorrow’s leaders are already here, and we must pay attention to what they have to say.
That’s why I was excited to see the results of the survey Boys & Girls Clubs of America created in partnership with Nickelodeon and the Case Foundation. “Teens Speak Up: A National Youth Survey on Civic Engagement and Citizenship” surveyed 10,000 teens nationwide as part of an effort to better understand what they think about issues ranging from character and civic engagement to the value of an education.
The results are clear: My peers understand the responsibility of voting, believe school is vital to achieving career goals, and want to be leaders in their communities. The survey challenged teens to conduct a major survey in their own communities, giving them the chance to give a voice to young people across the country, and encouraging them to take an active, civic role in understanding and addressing community needs.
Here are some of the highlights from the survey:
80 percent of teens polled agree that U.S. citizens have a responsibility to vote. They also agree that every vote in an election can make a difference.
85 percent of teens agree that school is important and will help them get a good job and 83 percent agree that going to college is necessary to achieve career goals.
A majority of teens polled believe it is important to make a contribution (58.5 percent), to serve as leaders in their community as teenagers (57.3 percent), and to address social and community issues (59.8 percent).
40 percent would begin their community contributions at school, and more than 31.5 percent would begin within their own family.
It’s great to see some of my family’s values reflected in these survey results. We’ve always been active in the community. My dad is a deacon at our church and once a week he would come home from work and cook a complete meal for the local homeless shelter.
That family background also led me to several great non-profits that serve kids. For several years, I’ve been working with leadership and service programs at Boys & Girls Clubs and bullying programs for girls with Saving Our Daughters.
My parents have taught me that knowledge can be a powerful tool and through proper education many people have been able to gain freedom from oppressive situations. My mother always says to educate yourself on as many subjects as possible so that you are able to communicate with anyone, on any level, at any time. That’s something I always try my best to do.
We have to keep the conversation going, and we have to keep reaching out to our teens and give them the tools they need to succeed. If we want them to be responsible, caring, productive citizens, we need to make sure they have experience today with civic engagement and character building. We have the chance today to give our teens a greater, brighter future. Let’s make sure it happens.
Actress and singer Keke Palmer starred in the acclaimed film, Akeelah and the Bee, and currently has her own show, True Jackson, VP, on the Nickelodeon Network. She works closely with non-profit organizations that support youth, including Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and she recently joined the “Oath Project,” an effort encouraging girls not to bully.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.