About 40 high school students from local schools gathered in Burbank City Council's chambers last week to hear student activists and community leaders such as Mayor Will Rogers and Burbank Unified Supt. Matt Hill discuss current political issues during the first-ever Youth Political Activism Day.
Topics discussed included education, criminal justice and climate change during panel discussions with names such as "Sustaining America: Environmental Action Policy in the Age of President Trump."
"We wanted to foster a productive exchange with youth and professionals in the field," said Sam Gorman, co-creator of the event and a recent Burbank High School graduate. "As a teen, I feel strongly that teens should have the opportunity to be involved in our political progress."
Each panel discussion was 40 minutes long, featuring two professionals and three student speakers in each session. It was followed by a 10-minute period for questions.
Gorman said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) also delivered a personalized video message for those at the event.
On the criminal justice panel, a student speaker shared information he learned while interning with a district attorney. Another student speaker shared his experience of living with parents who were incarcerated.
Gorman, an incoming Stanford University student, collaborated with Alec Zbornak, an incoming Yale University student, after meeting at Schiff's office, where they worked as interns.
The two said they wanted to start a youth activism day where high school students could discuss national topics and help improve civic engagement within the community.
Gorman said it took six weeks to bring the event to fruition. The two students contacted nonprofits such as the Nature Conservancy and the Wilderness Society as well as the deputy superintendent of high schools at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
In an interview Tuesday, Rogers said it was refreshing to hear from two teenagers interested in encouraging their peers to use their voice in local government.
"I couldn't encourage this enough," Rogers said. "I want all residents and kids to know that they can come to the council and be heard and very often get problems solved. They can't let a neighbor speak for them; they have to come and be heard for themselves."
Next year, Gorman said he would like like to expand his outreach even more and hopefully make the event a "staple in the community."