MILWAUKEE, WI — Youth Rising Up, a student union and activist group at North Division High School in Milwaukee, works with local organizations on issues plaguing the city and local schools. Youth members have been present at Board Meetings, Nutrition Services meetings and local events addressing concerns about lead water and food justice. The youth held a rally last year demanding filtered water fountains accessible for all students. One filtering system was installed in the school soon after and another this year. Not much has changed in the city since the lead issue surfaced in 2016. [More than 76,000 homes have lead water pipes in Milwaukee.] Recently, groups from all over collaborated in a “Get the Lead Out Rally” that the youth took part in at City Hall. Their speeches are below:
“We are Youth Rising Up. We are students organizing students to cultivate pride in our school by improving the quality of life and learning at school and in the surrounding community. Our group gives youth the appropriate tools to make change in a positive manner. We collaborate with other youth groups and activists in the city of Milwaukee to address social justice issues for our peers and the citizens of the City of Milwaukee. We are here today to work collaboratively with others to make sure every person has access to clean drinking water. It is our human right.
“Kids been drinking this poison water for their entire lives at home. How is this okay? Do any of you wonder why kids in Milwaukee have more problems than other cities? How much has this contributed to educational success?
“We need every citizen to rise up and take a stand. It is a human right to have clean water.” —Ammishaddai Jackson
“A dose of lead has little effect on an adult but can have a huge effect on a child. Lead in our bodies is distributed to our brain, liver, kidney and bones. It is stored in our teeth and bones. Our mothers who have drunk this water their entire lives also release lead into their own bloodstream during our pregnancies and this affects us as a developing fetus. Children who survive severe lead poisoning can be left with cognitive disabilities and behavioral disorders. So why are some students struggling in school? We can prevent this! We need every citizen to rise up and take a stand. It is a human right to have clean water.” —Elijah Helm
“It’s already a battle for youth in Milwaukee to trust authority and our local government. How are we supposed to trust the same people that are supposed to serve and protect us? Who are the city officials more worried about protecting? The image of the health department or the well-being of the people and the future? Don’t we have enough battles to overcome like poverty, lack of jobs, and mass incarceration in areas of Milwaukee as it is and then to find out we have been drinking this poisonous water our entire lives? We need every citizen to rise up and take a stand. It is a human right to have clean water. — Isaiah Lavender
Gina is the Youth Rising Up Advisor.