School’s almost out for the summer, and for many students that means the lure of three months of lazy days and hot party nights. For Adam King, a rising junior at Reynolds High School, it’ll most likely mean more writing for Asheville Citizen-Times blog “Student on the March,” volunteer work throughout the community and his continued crusade to expand the rights of teens.
Last year, King made a name for himself by waging a campaign to put a student representative on the Buncombe County School Board. (For details about that initiative, see the Web site www.asheville.youthrights.org) Though that effort failed, he hasn’t given up. Now he’s also become an activist to lower the voting age, ban corporal punishment and end homelessness, as well as taking on a bevy of other causes.
With a busy school year almost behind him—and a busy future ahead—Xpress spoke with King about the current state of affairs in the world of teens and his emergence as young community leader.
Mountain Xpress: What are the latest developments in your effort to get a student rep on the school board?
Adam King: The school board officially rejected my proposal in August 2006, but since then, I have been helping students across the country set up similar campaigns in their towns. I am also waiting to hear from the N.C. State Board of Education about my application to be one of their student advisors next year.
MX: Give us your argument for having a student rep.
A.K.: The school board affects the daily lives of nearly 26,000 students, but none of the students has direct representation on this body of government. Although schools have advisory councils with two student members, a student advisor on the school board would provide a forum for all of the students in the county to express their opinions on educational issues to the school board directly.
MX: Besides the school board, you’re also an activist for lower voting age, an end to corporal punishment and other equal rights for teenagers. Tell us a little about your stand on those issues—plus, what other issues are becoming important for you?
A.K.: I am the vice president of the National Youth Rights Association, a nonprofit organization committed to equal rights for youth. Through this organization, I focus on many issues such as the voting age and corporal punishment. The voting age should be lowered to 16 because teenagers pay approximately $11 billion in sales tax alone each year, regardless of employment status. Working teens must also pay income and FICA taxes each year, so in a sense, they are subjected to “taxation without representation.”
There are currently two bills in the N.C. General Assembly to ban corporal punishment in public schools. N.C. is one of the few states that still permit the usage of such punishment in schools, but Buncombe County Schools prohibits the practice in its schools. Corporal punishment is an antiquated method of disciplining students that is really not that effective or respectful of students.
MX: What are some of the ways you are attacking those issues?
A.K.: One of the best methods is educating the public, and I can do that through my blog and my connection with the media. To attack issues that come up at school, I use my position on the school’s leadership team—a committee of faculty department chairs. When the issues affect students countywide, I address the Board of Education through the public comment session.
MX: What first inspired you—and what keeps driving you—to be a youth-rights activist?
A.K.: I joined NYRA in January 2005, and ever since then, I have been focused on empowering youth with a voice and a means to stand up for their rights. Even as I become older, I realize that our fight for youth rights will not end until the government stops proposing ridiculous policies that only target youth.
MX: What reactions have you received from adults—and how have your peers reacted to you?
A.K.: The majority of the adults and students at my school agreed with my proposal to add a student advisor to the school board. I usually get mixed reactions from adults and other students about the other issues I am fighting for, but I still get a lot of support. Most of my friends jokingly tell me that I will be the next president of the United States one day.
MX: Outside of the issues you are passionate about, what other things or activities interest you? For example, what do you like to do for fun?
A.K.: Since last year, I have been serving as a junior volunteer leader at Mission Hospitals. Part of my duties includes supervising junior volunteers. Over the past two years, I have volunteered at Mission for over 350 hours. At school, I serve as the president of the HOSA [Health Occupations Students of America] chapter, and I am also the vice president of the Western Region of NC-HOSA.
MX: What are your plans for the future?
A.K.: I want to become a nurse anesthetist, but I will always be committed to working in the nonprofit sector.
MX: Do you ever find it difficult to get adults to take you seriously? If so, how do you respond to and handle that?
A.K.: Most adults, whether they agree with me, take my ideas and opinions seriously because of the way I present my arguments and conduct myself. I always respect other people’s opinions, and I think that has a lot to do with the respect I get in return.
MX: With all your various activities, how much of your time does it take?
A.K.: I spend a lot of time at school, but outside of that time, I am constantly doing some kind of work for NYRA, HOSA, Mission, or my church. On the weekends, I do make time for my friends and family.
MX: You’ve gotten public and media attention—but how do you measure success? And, how do you think you’ve done so far in accomplishing your goals?
A.K.: I do not measure success by whether I was able to reform a policy or not. I have learned a lot in the past two years just through my experience with the media, politicians and the school board. Everyday is a learning experience, and I continue to progress toward accomplishing my goals.
MX: If you could send any message to adults, what would it be?
A.K.: Take teenagers seriously! While there are some bad teenagers, all teenagers are human. They deserve to be treated with as much respect as you would normally give other adults. A good book that addresses these issues is The Case Against Adolescence, by Dr. Robert Epstein.
MX: If you could send any message to your peers here and elsewhere, what would it be?
A.K.: Stand up for your rights! Do not just let the government trample on you without sticking up for what you believe in. Even if it seems as though you cannot accomplish anything because of your age or the way that the world treats you, try anyway. I started from the very bottom, and I am now known as the “student who fought the school board.” Do not ever give up without trying first.