We know that youth in Kentucky are key to creating positive change for kids, and their leadership galvanizes other youth, parents, educators, community leaders, and legislators. In the Kentucky Youth Speak Up series, students advocate for policies, encourage other youth to serve their communities, promote strategies for student success, and motivate all of us to build the best commonwealth for Kentucky kids.
By Morgan Guess
I watch the news every night with my parents and I see the fighting, the name calling, and the cruelty that has become our national political landscape. But, I have also seen the kindness and the effort of Kentucky lawmakers to work together on behalf of Kentucky kids.
At 12 years old, Governor Beshear appointed me as the only student to serve on the Kentucky Youth Bullying Prevention Task Force. Six legislators served alongside me for nearly a year. They committed their time to attend meetings and they participated. They were honest in what they thought was reasonable to present to their fellow legislators and they shared what they thought would help the voices of bullied kids to be heard. But, more than anything, they heard me. They asked for my opinion and they listened. They were kind and they encouraged me to share what is not working to protect students.
These legislators have helped me bring forth two bills, HB 316 and SB 228, to finally define bullying in Kentucky. I believe these bills will open the door for students to come forward with their concerns and I hope it will inspire teachers and school administrators to hear their cries for help. These same legislators have stood beside me and they have lifted up my voice. I have testified before the House and Senate Education committees and our bills have passed their respective chamber. My hope is that the bills will pass their opposing chamber this week.
Six legislators from all across Kentucky – Senator Mike Wilson of Bowling Green, Senator Dorsey Ridley of Henderson, Senator Jared Carpenter of Berea, Representative Derrick Graham of Frankfort, Representative Rita Smart of Richmond, and Representative Regina Bunch of Williamsburg. None of them are even in my district. I am most proud that my own elected officials have joined them with their support. State Senator Danny Carroll and Representative Gerald Watkins sponsored and co-sponsored the Senate and House bills respectively. These eight legislators, both democrats and republicans, have set aside any partisan politics to serve the interests of the Commonwealth’s youngest citizens. These eight elected officials have shown me, that while they are focused on representing the people of their districts, they are also committed to helping all Kentuckians.
So, at a time when it is easy to focus on what is wrong and what is not working in our political system, I just want to say thank you to those who have shown me what it means to be a public servant. They have inspired me to consider a run office (when I am old enough) because I have witnessed and experienced a political process that allowed me to be a part of something positive and part of something that will make a lasting difference.
I know what bullying looks like. I was bullied at the age of 8 to the point that I experienced stomach spasms and panic attacks. Because of a bully, I had to take antidepressants for a year. My parents told me that I could blame others, I could ignore the problem, or I could be a part of the solution. I chose to be a part of a positive solution and eight legislators from all across this state have shown me that they too have chosen to be a part of a positive change.
Morgan is a 7th grader at Lone Oak Middle School in Paducah, KY. She was the only youth representative on the Governor’s Anti-Bullying Task Force.