Nicholas Armstrong is a Junior at Blaine high school. He is a district 6 representative on the Minnesota youth council and the finance and programming director of the Minnesota Young DFL. Nicholas likes listening to music, engaging in politics, and debating.
Can you name someone who has had a big impact on you as a leader and why?
I am a white, suburban gay kid that is deeply involved in politics. My parents had the most influence on me. My father is extremely fun and very down to earth, which I try to strive to become. He is borderline obsessed with politics and history, which is where I get my influence from because I want to go into education and become a history teacher.
What is the Minnesota Youth Council and what are their initiatives?
The Minnesota youth council is a collective committee of 36 students. We have divided up by the 8 congressional districts in Minnesota; 4 representatives per district. I am a District 6 representative and the chair of my district. Half of the year is devoted to partnering with state agencies on policy proposals and how they affect youth. The other half the year is focused on the state legislature. We participate in hearings on bills from the state legislature. We vote on whether we approve or disapprove of them for issues pertaining to mental health support for students, different educational aspects, red flags laws, and other notions that affect youth.
What is your job as a representative?
I represent students in congressional district 6. We put an emphasis on representing the students’ communities, their communities’ values, and what issues affect their communities directly. I talk with many people from Blaine, Ham Lake, Andover, Coon Rapids, etc.
What do you advocate for?
I am very passionate about mental health support for students. I dealt with a lot of mental health issues growing up including bullying and homophobia, which lead me into a state of depression, resulting in self-harm. I luckily have grown out of these issues and realized that my experience is not unique. Millions of other students across the nation have faced similar issues. I have devoted myself to make sure every student has the support systems in place to help them deal with their problems so it does not result in suicide. I am also a major advocate of a conversion therapy ban in Minnesota. Conversion therapy is the practice of changing an individual’s sexual orientation to heterosexual. Parents force their children to be a subject of conversion therapy to attempt to turn them “normal.” It takes a toll on the children’s mental health and it is immoral and wrong. I strongly advocate against gun violence. I am an organizer for March For Our Lives protests.
What are some prominent projects the youth council has worked on in the past?
We planned YDAC, which is a youth day that takes place in the capital. We invite youth from all across the state to a training and workshop day covering aspects of organizing, getting involved in politics, getting involved in your community, volunteering, and many others. Last year we had organizers from the Minnesota climate strike come in and speak to us about the climate movement. We host a youth education leadership summit (YELS). It is a day with many diverse workshops that cover multiple issues including mental health, educational support, climate change, gun violence prevention, etc.
What projects are you working on now?
We have been in the basics of forming the student bill of rights for Minnesota students, which outlines rights every student is guaranteed. We are currently trying to partner with state agencies so we can accurately represent students. Another project is each district is creating presentations that affect the districts we represent. For our district, we are investigating how the lack of diversity in the curriculum affects schools and students. Most of the education is whitewashed because it is built upon by white men, especially history. That is why it is important to diversify our curriculum to include voices of people of color, women, and many others to illustrate their contribution and views.
What are some setbacks you have faced?
A big issue we face in the Minnesota Youth Council is legislators and adults not taking us seriously even with people who are looking forward to working with us and are engaged. There are people we work with constantly who treat us like we are their kids, which is not a relationship we want to have. We want an equal footing with the people we are partnering with. We want an equal discussion rather than us being talked down at. We had legislators who came in and were completely lost and underprepared. In one of our hearings, a legislator came in, thinking that he is just going to show up and say “hi,” but did not realize he was coming to a hearing to present on a bill. It was a red flag bill, and he was supposed to be against it and present his argument and we pressed on the issue. We are called one of the hardest debaters within the state legislator for a reason.
What are your objectives for the future of the Minnesota Youth Council?
My objective is to pursue a conversion therapy ban. It passed in the house but did not get a vote in the senate. Another goal is to get more mental health support. Last year we heard a collection of bills that covered aspects from pregnant women to college students. They presented to us a giant bill that did not pertain to us. Many aspects of the bills pertained to college students, not high school students. We need provisions in place that support high school students.
What do you aim to accomplish when you graduate from the Council?
I want to go into academia and become a history teacher as I have stated before. I am good at recollecting information about history because it interests me and it usually sticks. I want to continue being an organizer and getting into politics. Hopefully, one day I will run for public office. My dream job is to become a governor.
How do you apply for the Minnesota Youth Council?
Every year the application window is opened in late January or early February and goes to April. Applicants answer a few essay questions along with an online interview. After that, the applicants are reviewed by all 36 members of the council and we vote on who will fill vacant spots for the following year.