Michigan High School Students Take the Lead, Host Gubernatorial Forum

High school students in Bloomfield Hills are stepping up to the political plate similar to their peers across the nation, as they work diligently to prepare for a unique opportunity to put some Democratic candidates in the hot seat before they possibly earn their vote.

In August, Michael Goldman Brown, Jr., an 18-year-old senior at Bloomfield Hills High School, was hanging out with his friend, Zach. The two joked about how cool it would be to host a debate, but what began as a joke is actually coming to fruition on Sunday evening at their high school.

“The whole thing started with cold-calling the campaigns. Eventually we got responses from (them),” Brown said.

After months of work and sought-after fundraising, Brown will serve as moderator for a debate featuring Shri Thanedar, Abdul El-Sayed, and Bill Cobbs on Sunday, March 11 at 6 p.m. Gretchen Whitmer, the fourth Democratic candidate in the race, is unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict, her spokesperson told the Beacon.

Brown told the Beacon he and his friends started with the Democratic candidates because there are fewer of them than Republicans, but they are interested in hosting a full-out gubernatorial debate once the two sides have sorted out their primaries, he said.

In fact, in putting together this first debate, he and friends have also created a group, Engage18, whose mission it will be to try to engage more fellow students in politics.

“Eighteen-to-29-year-olds have the lowest turnout in any election,” Brown said. “I think that disconnect begins in high school with the lack of information, the lack of engagement. That’s why we feel (the organization is) a necessity.”

And so far, the response has been positive, Brown said.

“People have become a lot more interested in what the gubernatorial candidates have to say about gun legislation but also other policies,” Brown said. “Another thing is infrastructure and when they (his peers) complain about hitting all the potholes. One of my friends got a flat tire, and they don’t necessarily think about that on the level of, ‘This is because the state budget isn’t providing enough money.’”

Brown said students are also still interested in the Flint Water Crisis, and how many find it “unfathomable for something like that to happen,” he said. His hope is that perhaps if he and his peers were more politically engaged, maybe they would feel less hopeless about their ability to help Flint or other major issues.

Brown also said he has always had a “fondness for watching news,” especially with his grandfather, almost every day. Between his sophomore and junior year, he said, he found himself involved in politics when a man at his church was running for West Bloomfield Township supervisor. With encouragement from his dad, Brown asked about getting involved in the campaign.

Brown recalled when he joined the campaign, he thought he might have a nice desk job. But he quickly learned that campaigns require more field work than in-office work, and he soon found himself knocking doors for the candidate. He said the campaign was “a very bare bones campaign,” so it didn’t have a list of how people in that neighborhood voted and thus which doors he should be knocking or not.

“So, I just went through the entire neighborhood. I got kicked off some porches; I got some really confused looks,” he laughed. “It was a good experience. That experience helped to build character by going out and talking to random people. It helped build social skills. I think that’s something more students should experience before they leave high school.”

Brown said he hopes the success of putting together a debate inspires others.

“By hosting this debate and showing people that this is two high-schoolers who did this all on their own, I think that’s a real inspiration that can hopefully create more positive change,” he said.

Brown said among topics to be covered are the state economy, education, gun legislation, infrastructure, environment, healthcare, and criminal justice reform, as well as a couple of short, personal questions for each candidate. There will also be a Google forum (accessible here) for those who cannot attend to submit questions that, if approved, will be asked too.

There is no admission for the event, but the students are accepting donations to pay in part for using the auditorium (which came at a usual cost despite being students at the high school, Brown said), and to fund other engagement work by the students.

The event will be at Bloomfield Hills High School, 4200 Andover Road, Bloomfield Hills, 48302. It will begin at 6 p.m. More information can be found on the event’s Facebook page.

Editor’s Note: The Great Lakes Beacon is a project of Progress Michigan, which is in part a sponsor of the event.

Danielle Emerson

Danielle Emerson