DeBakey students drive surge of young Texas voters to the polls

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In elections, as in life, success can be measured by who shows up.

About a year ago, David Dzul realized Houston had a big problem on its hands.

"What really made me get involved," the DeBakey High School junior said, "seeing that my community was not engaging civically, even though we had a quarter representation here."

Dzul reached out to Mi Familia Vota and OCA-Greater Houston, looking for ways to be a part of the solution to a Texas-sized challenge.

Historic data from Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University shows the state's youngest eligible voters, between 18-29 years old, haven't always shown up to make their voices heard.

Efforts by community organizations have made a difference, however. Between 2014 and 2018, youth turnout rose from 8.2 percent to 25.8 percent.

For Dzul and his fellow co-founders of DeBakey's Civics Club, 2020 may have been fraught with challenges from the pandemic and virtual learning, but it has also been seen as a year of opportunity.

"We as a club have over 200 collective hours of phone banking, hotline and text banking," Dzul told Eyewitness News. "What's even more, we have engaged over 200 (senior class) students to participate in this year's election."

Numbers that can make a big difference in the tight Texas race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

"These young folks can't even vote, and there's not just that they're turning out people to vote, they are getting involved with state government, such a critical level of government for all Texans," said Angelica Razo, Texas state director at Mi Familia Vota.

Early voting in Texas this year showed an 11 percent increase among young voters compared to 2016, with 1,364,448 ballots cast statewide.

"We hoped to increase (voter) engagement and also increase, like, knowledge about the election," club co-founder Noelle Nguyen said.

"We give them credit for this historical turnout that Texas is having, you know, these folks are part of it. They helped us get to this moment," Razo said. "So, I'm just extremely, extremely proud and really looking forward to continuing to work with these young individuals."

Their future is on the line

DeBakey juniors Meagan Tran and Yoyada Weldegabr, who helped Civics Club make big strides in its get-out-the-vote effort, said they got involved to help head off some concerns about their lives after high school and college.

Established as a partnership between HISD and Baylor College of Medicine, DeBakey High School for Health Professions was designed to increase opportunities for students to access careers in medicine, science and health.

Like so many voters this year, Tran said COVID-19 is front of mind.

"I'm an aspiring healthcare worker, and so I deeply care about the disparities and medicine in the healthcare field," Tran said.

For Weldegabr, he hopes the results of this election will mean more people can access their own American dream.

"I want (the next president) to create a nation where someone isn't judged because they're an immigrant," Weldegabr said. "A lot of people come here as an immigrant, and I want him to make a better immigration policy."

The greatest lesson in all of this for these students? Our democracy works best when everyone participates. All you've got to do is show up.

"If you don't think you can make an impact, you're wrong," Dzul said.
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