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Students prepare to have their voices heard In Lansing

Interlochen Arts Academy students Tendekai Mawokomatanda and Bella Rotker aim for the Michigan Youth House of Representative and Senate Floors as part of the Youth In Government program.

Isabella (Bella) Rotker and Tendekai Mawokomatanda

Youth in Government participants Isabella (Bella) Rotker (left) and Tendekai Mawokomatanda (right)

Two students at Interlochen Arts Academy are ready to make their voices heard. 17-year-old senior Tendekai Mawokomatanda and 15-year-old sophomore Isabella (Bella) Rotker are preparing to enter the political arena at the Michigan Youth In Government Central Fall Conference on Oct. 13.

"Watching these students participate in our democracy without waiting for permission and taking ownership of their citizenship is so impressive,” said Interlochen Arts Academy history and political science instructor Brian McCall.

Mawokomatanda is campaigning for Speaker of the House, and Rotker is launching her own campaign for Lieutenant Governor.

Mawokomatanda, a first generation African American from Zimbabwe, is campaigning on the belief that productivity is better when we work together.

“I am running for Youth Speaker of the House to create a safe and moderated environment for all the delegates in the House of Representatives. I want to give every delegate a fair chance to speak at least once on the house floor and express their views, as they are our next generation of politicians,” said Mawokomatanda.

He has already proven that he has the chops to be Speaker of the House. Last year he introduced a transparency bill to his YIG peers, which passed the house, senate and Youth Governor’s office. His bill is set to become a reality within the next coming months.

Rotker, too, has seen tremendous success with her bill regarding menstrual equity for incarcerated Michiganders and, after having passed her bill through the model state government, will be introducing her bill to the statehouse soon. Having been born in Venezuela, Bella Rotker knows the importance of unity in order to create a strong government.

“I’m currently working to have my bill passed through the actual Michigan House of Representatives and Senate, and signed by Governor Whitmer. The bill originated in YIG and it’s so special to be able to see and feel the community I’ve formed with fellow young activists because of Youth in Government. All aspects of YIG are a community before they are ever a competition,” said Rotker. “As Youth Lieutenant Governor, I hope to inspire delegates to have the confidence to speak their truths. I want to help facilitate a safe environment for productive debate on the floor and help make the program more accessible to young people who have something to say about our state, our people, and our world. We are stronger together.”

And they aren’t stopping there. Both Mawokomatanda and Rotker are also working on bills they will present at the spring conference in Lansing.

“Democracy is incredibly important to me, as I come from a country where it is tossed and beaten around by corrupt government officials. So I am planning to introduce several virtual bills that will focus on the availability and accessibility of voting,” said Mawokomatanda. “It is incredibly important for me to have access to free and fair elections where having the freedom of speech is an essential human right, not a privilege that you are at risk of being punished for using. With democracy now more important than ever, I plan to introduce this legislation that would protect Michigan voters.”

Rotker is continuing with her passion of bringing rights to incarcerated Michiganders.

“As it stands, minimum wage in Michigan doesn’t apply to imprisoned workers, and they can earn as low as five cents per hour. My bill for this year’s conference will aim to regulate that,” said Rotker.

YMCA Michigan Youth in Government is a student-led, student run model government for teens across the state of Michigan. These program areas model the systems that make our Democracy run.