Meet Grace Belize Anderson – Wyoming Teen Representing Next Gen. Female Leadership In The US

When people use the phrase “the future is female”, some may think it just a catchy, feminist slogan, but in fact it is far more than that. All you have to do is look at our current political climate to see how rooted in truth this statement really is. Since the 2016 presidential election which left millions of Americans reeling at the thought of Donald Trump and Mike Pence occupying the White House and the Republicans taking complete control of Congress, we have also seen a rise in the #resistance movement, clearly marked by the Women’s Marches which took place globally the day after Trump’s inauguration.

While it wasn’t just women who marched, there is a significant role women are playing in the resistance. Take for instance new data from Emily’s List, the progressive organization which supports women running for public office. Because of the election, the group has seen an out-of-the-ordinary increase of women wanting to run for office. Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock told the Washington Post that this is not a mere “ripple”, but a “wave”.

“During the 2016 cycle, her group spoke with about 900 women interested in running for school board, state legislature or Congress. This year, they’ve heard from more than 11,000 women in all 50 states — with a few dozen seriously considering House races, she said,” WaPo’s Ed O’Keefe and Mike DeBonis wrote.

Making calls to representatives has also proved a powerful took of resistance, as we have seen in the way constituents have put pressure on their legislatures not to vote for the Trumpcare/Ryancare healthcare plan which was estimated to kick up to 24 million people off their insurance. A survey of close to 30,000 conducted by DailyAction.org found that 86% of anti-trump resistance calls to legislators were being made by women, specifically aged 46-65. What does this mean for the younger generation? It means that as women’s voices get louder and more powerful than ever, younger women are growing up in a world knowing how valuable their contributions are.

Take for instance Grace Belize Anderson, a teen from a small town in Wyoming. Grace is an example of the type of civically-engaged young woman we can expect to see more of across America, similar to the Arizona teen and reproductive rights advocate Deja Foxx who stood up to Senator Jeff Flake and challenged him on his decision to vote to defund Planned Parenthood.

Grace is a student of Wyoming Virtual Academy, a full-time online public school that serves students throughout the state of Wyoming. This has allowed her a lot of freedom to be involved in community activities such as charity work for Operation Christmas Child (through Samaritan’s Purse), serving as a student mentor, WYVA’s President of the National Honor Society, and the Vice President of Wyoming’s Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA).

She was also was recently chosen as a delegate for the United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP). On top of being given a $10,000 scholarship from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, Grace was flown to Washington, D.C., for a week, where she met numerous prominent government officials. While it is important to pay close attention to our leadership today (as well as hold them accountable), we also want to be supporters of the next generation of leaders, especially young women. We spoke with Grace about her ambitions, why she stays so engaged with her community, and what she wants others to know about youth leadership.

Tell us about growing up in Wyoming and how you started to become interested in politics?

Growing up, my parents and grandparents were very involved in politics so I was more knowledgeable and involved in politics than many other kids my age. I went to many Lincoln Day Dinners, sang the National Anthem, attended American Legion meetings, and even helped a candidate campaign for governor of Wyoming. I always thought other students were involved in politics too; however, as I got older, I realized very few students understood or were even interested in government. I was shocked by how few students and adults even knew who Wyoming government officials were.

I started becoming more involved in middle school when I attended the Wyoming TeenPact program, which gives students a chance to get a hands-on feel of their state government. As part of TeenPact, I wrote a bill and participated in mock legislature, I was elected chairman of my committee, I ran for Senator, and learned more about what it means to be involved in our government as youth. As I started getting older I became more and more involved. I have participated in a Constitution Bee and competed in the American Legion Oratorical Contest, and I was a page for a day for the Wyoming House of Representatives and a delegate for the United States Senate Youth Program, among other activities.

I plan on dual-majoring in communications and political science, and I hope to run for political office one day. I would love to be the Secretary of State and governor of Wyoming. It has always been my dream to be President of the United States, so maybe sometime in the future you might see my name on the ballot!

You were recently chosen to be part of the United States Senate Youth Program. Tell us about your trip to Washington D.C and what being part of the program entails?

The trip definitely was a life-changing experience. The week leading up to our White House visit had so many other highlights, from going to the Supreme Court and meeting the chief justice, to hearing from the secretary of state and meeting our state’s senators, to a trip to Arlington National Cemetery and meeting some prominent journalists. As a delegate, we were treated as the top high school students in the country, which was a complete honor and privilege. We spent the entire week hearing from well-known government officials, touring important national monuments, having the chance to watch government in action, and debate politics with the other delegates.

Probably one of the best parts of the entire week was that I was surrounded by all these delegates from all different backgrounds and being able to have intelligent discussions with all of these different students from across the U.S. – and I never felt someone was looking down on me and judging me. I felt like the mature and intelligent young adult that I am, and having other equally brilliant and incredible young adults surrounding me the entire time was an experience of a lifetime.

I loved getting to know the other students for who they are – that’s what Washington needs to start doing. No matter your skin color or ethnicity or political views, we are all Americans and that is what brings us together. That was the biggest lesson I took away from the week.

How has being part of this program changed or shaped your outlook on your future career plans and your ideas about politics in our everyday lives?

One of my favorite parts of the week was going to the Supreme Court chambers. It was such a surreal experience because I’ve always thought about going into law and becoming a judge. Chief Justice John Roberts spoke with us in the chambers and answered some of our questions, and my biggest takeaway was a story he told us about two Supreme Court justices. As they were leaving after a court hearing the one justice turned to the other and said “I don’t think we administered justice today.”

And the other justice said “It’s not my job to administer justice – it’s my job to administer the law.” I found this very interesting and really made me think about how I view law and our judicial system. It was a real eye-opener for me and it made me think about what I believe and why I believe it. I came away from it thinking law may not be the career for me. Instead, I really want to look into journalism. We had the opportunity to meet Bob Schieffer from CBS News and Brian Lamb from C-SPAN. Mr. Schieffer has been a reporter for more than half a century and has covered so many important stories – including John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

He told us a fascinating story about interviewing the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy’s assassin, and her lack of sympathy for the Kennedy family, which was very shocking for me and very insightful. We also went to the Newseum earlier in the week and met with its president and CEO, Jeffrey Herbst. I had never thought about journalism as something I wanted to do, but especially after going to the Newseum and hearing from different people, I think it would be right up my alley. I also love photography, and with journalism, photography can be a part of that.

I really think politics needs to be more prevalent in our everyday lives. Every American needs to have at least a basic understanding of what is going on in the world right now. I also think we need to quit shying away from having civil political discussions in our every day lives. I think it is something young people need to be able to do. It is OK and even important for us to have differing opinions so that we can see each side of the story.

Right now roughly only 20% of federal government is made up of women in 2017. There is a huge gender gap in our national politics. How do you think these numbers will change as the younger generations get more involved?

I believe this number is bound to change, very soon and very rapidly. Younger generations are starting to realize the importance of being involved in politics and are realizing the influence they have. I believe we are having more prominent female political leaders, which is fantastic.

I think more and more young women are starting to realize how important it is to be involved in politics. I met so many bright and intelligent females at USSYP that I believe will be very involved in politics and have great capacity to lead this country in many new and exciting directions.

There are many who like to write off the voices of youth in important conversations about our nation, but young women like you are proving that it is important to engage with youth in shaping policies for the future. What do you say to those who don’t think youth have an important role in today’s issues?

First I would say, if you do not think youth play a role in today’s issues then you should not plan on getting re-elected, because the youth of this country are the future voters. They NEED to be involved and actively participate in politics. It is important because we are the next generation of leaders, and many of us will be filling the government positions that open up.

Our world is changing rapidly and the youth are the ones who are growing up in that world and they understand how to better adapt to the changes we are experiencing, which is why they should be involved in shaping the policies for the future. I feel our culture has underestimated the ability of youth to make a difference and be heard. We are young adults; many of us care and want to be heard, yet we are rarely given the chance. However, that does not stop us.

How would you encourage other young girls, especially, to know they have the power to create change in the world?

I remember as a young girl in middle school, I was very self-conscious and my self-confidence was very low. Comparison is something I believe all girls struggle with. However, this is my advice and encouragement to other young girls: There is no better you than you – so own yourself and be proud of who you are! Be confident in yourself – make a difference with your life. Remember that small things lead to greater things – never doubt your ability to influence and have an impact. Never shy away from the opportunity to be a leader – we need more servant leaders in this world who are willing to make a difference.

Who are some of your role models and why?

One of my biggest role models is my dad. He is one of the kindest and most selfless people I have ever met. He has taught me that it is important to see the bright side of every situation. You always have time to help others and you are never too busy to make a difference. Sometimes the greatest impacts are made through the smallest acts of kindness.

My mom has also been a big role model in my life. She has shown me how important it is to stand up for yourself and be confident in your abilities. Even when you are scared, it is always important to do the right thing. She has helped me to seize every opportunity to become a better version of myself and make a difference in my world.

One of the other key people in my life would be my best friend. She has shown me what it means to be a true friend. She has shown me that it is important to not only be a great speaker, but also a great listener. Silent and listen are spelled with the same letters, and I do not think this is a coincidence. Patience is one of her greatest virtues and I have learned so much from her.

What are some of the extracurricular activities you are involved in outside of normal school hours?

“Normal school hours” don’t exactly apply to me because I attend an online school, Wyoming Virtual Academy (WYVA). WYVA has given me the best education I could ask for with the flexibility I need to participate in many other great programs.

I am actively involved in Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA). I have been a chapter, district, and state officer for Wyoming, and I am currently running for a national office with the organization. I am also on the state 4-H leadership team, I am an American Legion auxiliary member and I am on staff with TeenPact Leadership Schools. In addition, I just recently earned my Gold Congressional Medal Award.

I try to keep myself busy and involved. I want to give back to my community and I see this as the best way I can do that. Community service is a huge part of my life. In the past three years, I have logged over 400 community service hours, and there is no way I could have done that if I was in a traditional brick-and-mortar school.

One hundred and four high school student delegates – two from each state, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity – take part in the 55th annual United States Senate Youth Program held in Washington, DC on March 4-11, 2017. (© Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin).

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