Memphis youth group takes on political, race and environmental injustices


Dahlia Townley-Bakewell

The Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope Youth Council focuses on improving the Memphis community through three main issues. They are always looking for new members to join them on their journey to make Memphis a better place and can be contacted at their Instagram @micahyouthcouncil901.

Formed in 2019, the Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope Youth Council (MICAH) seeks to improve the Memphis community by focusing on three main pillar issues: improving police-community relations, promoting environmental justice and allowing everyone to have equal access to opportunities and resources. Every Sunday, students meet on Zoom to discuss how they can combat these issues and contribute time from their intense schedules to create petitions, start fundraisers and raise awareness over social media. “Each group member needs to come to meetings regularly and carry out each week’s actions, which could include email writing, attending other meetings, calling government offices, learning more about the issues we are working on,” Ira Sharma (9) said. “Overall keeping up with everything that goes on in our community to see how we can help.” The youth council was organized by former founding chair, Ximena Villa (9), who was inspired by her parent’s involvement in the adult MICAH organization. Her role was to vote on projects, help co-chairs manage their pillars and encourage participation. Each co-chair oversees a pillar and makes sure all projects are on track, contributing ideas for addressing issues and ensuring people feel included. “I am the former co-chair, so right now my role is to make sure that the new co-chair knows what she is doing and make sure she feels comfortable reaching out to me if she has any questions,” Villa said. The youth council keeps busy with multiple projects in motion at the same time. For example, they are currently working on getting a member onto the search committee that will find the next police chief of Memphis, preventing the Byhalia pipeline from being constructed through emails to Mayor Lee Harris and starting anti-sexual harassment training in schools. “We are also aiming to set up a three-week-long seminar series with police officers and members of the community affected by police violence to create understanding and learn more about the state of policing,” Sharma said. Youth council members constantly face challenges through balancing schoolwork, elected officials not cooperating with projects and receiving needed participation from younger members. “Trying to manage everything is difficult, but I always manage to find time for MICAH because it is something that is really important, and it does not just affect me; it affects pretty much everyone around me,” Dahlia Townley-Bakewell (10), Equal Opportunities and Resources Co-Chair, said. Despite hardships, members such as Townley-Bakewell, Villa and Sharma give it their all during weekly Sunday Zoom meetings and projects. MICAH has given members a social outlet during the pandemic by developing new relationships with council members, elected public officials, the adult MICAH team and students from other schools. In addition, members are able to gain experience in government work by understanding how the legislature system works, how to contact elected officials and how to listen to disagreeing views. “Being a part of MICAH has really allowed me to explore my passion for activism,” Villa said. “I grew up with activist parents that have always taught me to stand up for minorities and to be the voice for those that can’t be in the conversation, and MICAH has really allowed me to find a way to do that. It’s also allowed me to explore the field and meet people that have the same passion I do and that have the same interest to fix the issues that I see as important in my community in Memphis.” Members prioritize having a healthy and supportive group dynamic and acknowledging all opinions. In the future, they hope to focus more on environmental justice, the equal opportunities and resources pillar and being more organized with projects. With members of all political backgrounds, voices, and connections coming together, the MICAH Youth Council will continue to do its best to better the Memphis community. New members can contact Townley-Bakewell (10) or message MICAH’s Instagram account @micahyouthcouncil901. “MICAH is nonpartisan; we try to be inclusive of all voices,” Villa said. “We highly value being thorough. Research and knowledge are the best resources to be able to change society.”