By Donald K Jonas, Ph.D. – Vice Chair of the GenerationNation Board of Directors

Recent events provide a vivid reminder: educating and preparing our youth to lead and engage in the life of Charlotte and our nation has never been more important.

Launched in 1992 as a mock election event called “Kids Voting”, this year marks the 25th anniversary for GenerationNation, now a Charlotte-based nonprofit organization working year-round to educate and engage a new generation of citizens and leaders.

What we have learned over the years – nearly one million student participants later – is that giving young people an opportunity to cast a mock vote is just one critical part of becoming an informed and engaged citizen.

GenerationNation aims to improve civic literacy for all K-12 students. Through classroom curriculum and hands-on experiences, students learn how their governments and communities work, explore issues and different points of view, prepare to become intelligent consumers of civic information, and gain the experience and readiness to become active citizens and leaders.

Are we doing enough to prepare our youth to become informed, engaged citizens and leaders who, in the near future, will be responsible for decisions impacting our schools, neighborhoods, businesses, city, state, and nation?

As we reflect on everything that’s been happening in our city and country, have we done all we can do to help our youth understand the complexity of the issues involved? Perhaps more importantly, are we providing all K-12 students the education and tools they need to most effectively contribute to our democracy and community?

Over the last 25 years, nearly 1 million students have participated in GenerationNation programming. In partnership with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and many other schools and other agencies, young people have studied civic literacy in their K-12 classrooms, experienced democracy in simulated elections, participated in youth civic leadership opportunities, and more.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Youth Council, a program of GenerationNation, is the student advisory council for the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, and CMS. The program provides a rare – and needed – opportunity for emerging leaders from different high schools, neighborhoods, and backgrounds to come together to learn, understand, build bridges, and solve problems.

We’re working with schools, organizations, local governments, civic leaders, volunteers, teachers, parents, students, sponsors, and many others to build student civic literacy and leadership from an early age and narrow student learning opportunity gaps.

GenerationNation is making a difference, but as we learned over the last week, there is still much more work to be done.

When children and youth study the candidates and issues and then cast their mock votes in GenerationNation’s student election, I hope they will all proudly wear their “I Voted” stickers. But more importantly, I hope this sticker represents just the first step toward preparing our youth to become active and engaged citizens.

They are literally Charlotte’s future.