SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD — Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School’s (SPFHS) Black Student Union partnered with the National Pan-Hellenic Council of Central Jersey to host a Teen Voter Town Hall on October 7. Teens from across the state learned about the electoral process from elected officials, among them New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Tahesha Way; explored some of the issues that could impact them in the next election, and discussed how to make a positive difference in their communities.
Held at Union College’s Scotch Plains campus, the free event drew more than 50 teens and adults. The National Pan-Hellenic Council of Central Jersey, which represents historically Black fraternities and sororities, participated to help teens and young adults under age 21 be well-informed as new and soon-tobe voters in New Jersey.
SPFHS Black Student Union (BSU) members attended and led the one-hour, non-partisan questionand- answer panel discussion at the end of the event.
“It was amazing to meet the people who represent us and to hear directly from them,” said Sequoia Pilgrim, SPFHS Black Student Union president. “My favorite part of the Teen Voter Town Hall was before the Q&A started, I got to speak to some of the elected officials in one-on-one conversations.”
The idea for the Teen Voter Town Hall sprung from a visit last year by Liz Nolley Tillman, parliamentarian for the National Pan-Hellenic Council of Central Jersey and president of the Phi Eta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. A conversation with Sequoia and other BSU members at SPFHS led to the topic of voter engagement among young people.
“In that moment, we were inspired to do a voter-information event and forum for the students to hear for themselves about what issues are at stake in elections,” Ms. Nolley Tillman said. “The students wanted to hear the information firsthand so they could make decisions for themselves.”
With support from Scotch Plains-Fanwood Superintendent Joan Mast, Ed.D., the students participated in planning the Teen Voter Town Hall.
The event brought together several notable elected and non-elected officials. Melissa Marks, a senior organizer for the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, presented on the political process, and Lt. Gov. Way talked about how to get involved. Tomas Varela, founding executive director for the New Jersey Black Empowerment Coalition and the affiliated NJBEC Action Network, discussed specific issues that could affect young people, including teen access to mental-health services and parental-rights legislation.
The BSU students led a one-hour question-and-answer panel with New Jersey Assemblywoman Linda Carter, who is from Plainfield; Eric Pennington, City of Newark business administrator; Jazz Clayton-Hunt, City of Plainfield chief of staff; and Zelda Spence-Wallace, Montgomery School Board president.
“The students said they felt more informed and empowered about how they could make sure their voices are heard,” Ms. Nolley Tillman said. “They felt more informed about the overall process and got to see the power of coming together as a collective, as a community, to effect change.”
Sequoia agreed, saying that she now has a much better understanding of the voting process and issues. “I feel like to really understand someone you need to be able to ask them questions and hear what they think about important topics,” she said. “It was very insightful to be able to do that and it made me think about where I stand on these topics.”