What should every American know? This question has long been debated, discussed, and deliberated. And while answers need to come from all of us—not just a powerful few—young people have often been excluded from these conversations. A new partnership between Chicago Public Schools and the Aspen Institute’s program on Citizenship and American Identity aims to change that. Together they will elevate youth perspectives, beliefs, and values as vital to our national conversation of civic purpose.

Tri Ho is a 12th-grade student at William Howard Taft High School located in the Norwood Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Immigrating from communist Vietnam to the United States, my parents never realized the full potential of their civic engagement. They feared that if they participated in politics, or against the status quo, then our privileges would be revoked. Their concerns stemmed from the communist regime in Vietnam, where there was minimal media exposure to two-sided conversations, limited access to liberatory education, and silencing of critical bloggers, activists, and online dissenters. As a result of this fear, even after my parents immigrated to the States, I grew up with a detachment from politics and civic engagement.

However, it is essential for us who have been historically silenced to become active in the realization of our rights, especially when the system is not designed for their preservation and protection. All too often, the system that should work for us actually works against us through the use of racial profiling, discriminatory laws that stigmatize specific communities, and violations of basic protections in school or the workforce. But in the US, our civil, political and social rights apply to us all!

Knowledge and understanding of one’s civil, political, and social rights make someone civically powerful because they can effectively and fully participate in their local community and government.

Read the full article about empowering civic engagement by Tri Ho at The Aspen Institute.