BEMIDJI -- While helping to uplift the voices of youth around the state, Robert Johnson also began to find his own.
A senior at Voyageurs Expeditionary School, Johnson, 17, of Bemidji, is in his third year with the Minnesota Youth Council. The organization allows youth throughout Minnesota a chance to have a say on issues that legislators and administrators at the state level deal with routinely.
This year, one of the council’s main projects will be to continue working on a student bill of rights. Johnson said that, once it’s finished, he would like there to be one in every classroom throughout the state.
“We just want to bring awareness to students and show that they have rights in their schools; they have a right to be safe,” Johnson said.
In addition to working with the Legislature, the students also work with the Minnesota Department of Education. In the past, they’ve weighed in on issues such as the legal drinking age and school resource officers. The Youth Council also facilitates Youth Day at the Capitol, among other projects.
During Johnson’s earlier time on the council, students were delegated to one of two initiatives. One dealt with policy and the other with education. This year, however, he said they are working to reorganize the structure of the council. Although there can be as many as four students from each district, Johnson is currently the only representative from District 7.
Overall, though, the student representatives are on the council to help communicate the needs and concerns of youth to those who make the laws. Johnson said he hopes to help amplify the voice of students regarding issues that affect them.
“We’ve kind of given students a voice. We want to include everyone from across the state,” Johnson said. “We have people from Greater Minnesota and metro areas.”
Since he’s been on the council, he’s also learned how to amplify his own voice. Johnson himself was hesitant to step into the role with the Minnesota Youth Council at first. He knew if wasn’t just another extracurricular activity and that it would mean taking on the responsibility of representing others. Eventually, he decided to apply for the position.
Although he may seem like a quiet student to some, his peers and advisors at Voyageurs knew he would be a good fit for the role.
Another Voyageur student, Emily Risberg, saw the leadership potential in him when she was exiting the council and was looking for another student at Voyageurs who would rise up to the occasion. Risberg said even though Johnson appeared quiet, she knew he was able to lead groups with which he was involved.
Troy Johnson, a teacher at Voyageurs, echoed that.
“Regardless of if he saw it or not at the beginning, he was a true leader; his peers were following him,” Troy Johnson said.
After graduation, Johnson hopes to go on to medical school and then come back to work with the community in Red Lake Nation. He says he might continue his pursuit of leadership roles through student government in college.
Regardless, though, he knows he has gained a new sense of his own abilities through his work with the youth council.
“This was kind of my leap of faith into leadership positions; It’s gotten me out of my comfort zone,” Johnson said about his time on the Minnesota Youth Council. “It’s led to a multitude of different leadership positions and opportunities. I can’t explain how thankful I am for the opportunity.”