Photography by Shelby Tauber.

The Dallas Youth Commission was started in 1994. It’s a group of 15 high-school students from the City of Dallas who meets monthly to discuss initiatives and ideas pertinent to local youth.

Many young people may not know about it, but with a budget of more than $155,000 for fiscal year 2021-22, the commission has the power to provide opportunities for them.

Here’s an introduction to the two students representing our neighborhood. 

District 9

The 2016 presidential election made a 10-year-old Highland Park student think twice about the country’s political divide. 

With a mother who’s a jury trial psychologist and father and brother who are lawyers, Arran Davis had always been interested in law. But the election sparked curiosity in the federal government. 

She noticed that classmates often had negative comments about Hillary Clinton but rarely about Donald Trump. 

“And I was like, well wait a minute, wait a minute,” Davis says. “And so watching all that unfold, and fifth-graders being insanely political, even fourth-graders, insanely political about everything, you could see how they were influenced by what their parents were saying.” 

It made Davis see the election “as a major divisive point in the Republican and Democratic parties.” She wondered why the discourse was so heated and started thinking about what she could do to address it. 

Her family moved to Old Lake Highlands. When the pandemic came, Davis’ mother decided Arran needed to do something, and she prompted her to work as an intern for District 9 City Council member Paula Blackmon’s re-election campaign. 

The opportunity would be a welcome addition to college applications, and Davis needed volunteer hours to graduate from the School for the Talented and Gifted at Townview, so she took it. 

For three months, Davis was block-walking, phone banking and helping host events.

After Blackmon was re-elected, she invited Davis to apply to be the district’s youth commissioner, a position about which Davis didn’t know. 

Davis, 15, was selected last September. Since then, she has become the secretary of the commission, which requires her to record meeting minutes. Along with the other commissioners, she writes blogs about topics important to teens. 

She has two other leadership roles. As the youth spokesperson for Period Access Dallas, Davis helps ensure anyone can get free access to period products at public facilities, such as libraries and recreation centers. She’s also chair of Dallas Youth Magazine. The first issue comes out this month and will include articles and art submitted by local high-school students. 

As a youth commissioner, Davis tries to involve students of District 9 high schools in the projects such as scholarship opportunities and other initiatives. But she says sometimes it’s hard to get in touch with them, especially because she doesn’t attend those schools.

The youth commission isn’t well-known, she says, but has a lot to offer teens. A creative outlet is available through the magazine, and funding is available for everything from college scholarships to Girl Scout Gold Awards. 

“If you can think of it, the youth commission can probably do it,” Davis says. “There’s something for everybody.”

District 14

Andrea Mercado didn’t know anything about the youth commission until Arran Davis, her classmate at the School for the Talented and Gifted at Townview, mentioned it. 

But she was interested in it right away. Mercado, who lives in The Village, interviewed with District 14 City Council member Paul Ridley and his staff, and she was selected. 

“I just liked the idea of being able to talk with other youth and make changes in the communities around Dallas,” Mercado says. “It’s like one big family that I just really enjoy being a part of.”

A native of Puerto Rico, Mercado moved to Dallas when she was 7. She attended St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Monica before starting high school at Townview, where she participates in the mock trial team, Model United Nations and debate. 

Mercado, 16, was intimidated at the first meeting in February, where the commissioners reviewed the agenda and the minutes from the previous meeting. But she says she was amazed when she heard from a speaker discussing infrastructure and city planning, and when the commissioners were talking about their ongoing projects.

So far, Mercado has been communicating with the District 14 City Council office to help spread awareness about her new position. She also reached out to some local libraries to inquire about distributing the Dallas Youth Magazine there.

Mercado and the other commissioners had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. for the National League of Cities conference. They listened to a speech by President Joe Biden and met with Texas council members, mayors and lobbyists, who spoke about the infrastructure bill moving through Congress. They also met other youth commissioners from across the United States to share ideas about community engagement and activities. 

Going forward, Mercado says she wants to organize some volunteer activities for District 14. She’d also like to help with Period Access Dallas and make sure neighborhood high schools have functioning period product machines.

Mercado says the youth commission is here to advocate for local teens and encourages students to get involved with them.

“It’s a really great opportunity to give back to your community and to meet other people from around the city,” Mercado says. “You don’t usually make those kind of connections.” 

To connect with the youth commission, email, or follow them on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

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