Woodbury High School students participate in Youth in Government.
For Wesley Ross and Anneteke Adoga, leadership comes naturally. The two Woodbury High School students, both in 12th grade, are in their fifth year of the YMCA’s Youth in Government (YIG) program, an immersive political experience for students in grades eight–12. This past January, Wesley and Anneteke respectively served as youth elect governor and lieutenant governor at its annual conference.
“I’ve always been really politically aware, and I always wanted to know what was going on,” Anneteke says. She first joined YIG after hearing students discuss the program in eighth grade. “At first, I didn’t like it. Then I went to the conference and said I would stick with it … [Now] YIG is my favorite activity.”
Unlike Anneteke, Wesley was initially uninterested in the program. However, three weeks after moving from Georgia to Woodbury, Wesley’s mother noticed a pamphlet for YIG at the Woodbury YMCA. “She asked if I wanted to join, and I said, ‘No’ … She said, ‘Well, you’re going to anyways!’” he says. “I got sent to the first meeting, learned about the program and still wasn’t sold.” Then, similarly to Anneteke, Wesley discovered his passion for the program following its yearly conference.
The four-day conference includes students from all over Minnesota to roleplay state government. Students between grades eight and 10 are at a hotel simulating the creation of new bills and policies; students in grades 11 and 12 meet at the Minnesota State Capitol to work on upper legislation while fostering an environment to debate politics.
“I can put it in no better words than to say it’s a great place to learn,” Wesley says. “The learning process that we receive from YIG is something you can’t replicate elsewhere, [and] the Minnesota YIG is one of the best in the country.”
Wesley has previously served the program in a few roles; Anneteke is currently serving her first role with the program.
Though Wesley and Anneteke chose not to run as a team at first, the pair found themselves running together after both one another’s teammates had dropped out of the YIG election. Anneteke says, “I knew we would make
a great team, and that it would be exciting to be a part of this leadership … We’ve made good connections, and we’ve seen new, diverse faces in this role.”
Wesley agrees. “I’m happy to have Anneteke along with me because there’s no better person to facilitate that growth in the youth,” he says. “Seeing the way Anneteke works and speaks … It’s beautiful …”
Wesley and Anneteke fostered youth growth this past January at the YIG conference. With a $500 program cost and the need for professional attire, some students are unable to join due to finances. To help students in need, Wesley and Anneteke raised funds. “I want students to know that we’re happy to have you and help you learn, and there’s a stipend to help you get clothing and a meal,” Wesley says. The pair also ran a clothing drive, which included business casual and professional attire for students to select. “It [was] a free pop-up shop for any student … to walk in and come out with anything they may need, free of charge,” he says.
Outside of YIG, Wesley is a club leader and business owner. He started the Automotive Club at Woodbury High School, owns two businesses and is working full time on expanding his network. Cars, reading, exploring the diverse landscape of Minnesota, paintball and advocating are more of Wesley’s passions.
Anneteke is a proud activist, having assisted in organizing a statewide school walkout protesting police brutality. She’s also a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, where she works with St. Paul schools in creating support systems for students of color.
“In all of my roles, I’ve been the first person who looked like me or had experiences like me, and as more people see faces like mine, I hope they’ll have the courage to step out …” Anneteke says. “The sky is your limit. Every single person has value, and we want everyone to run for everything; we want people in these positions, and just know that you have the capabilities to shoot for the moon.”