The Atypical Teen
A Salinas youth spearheads a local humanitarian movement.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
The 8-year-old’s question foreshadowed his future. After finding a sticker for the human rights nonprofit Amnesty International, Brian Glasscock asked his mom what the organization did. She told him that they freed people from prison. His next question was simple. “If they are in prison,” he said, “aren’t they supposed to be there?”
Her reply—“No, they didn’t do anything”—shocked him. Suddenly Boy Scouts and baseball held less interest. The naturally observant kid began paying closer attention to human rights.
Recently Glasscock, now 15, was named assistant to the deputy regional director of Amnesty International, an accomplishment that punctuates an impressive run of recent activist work. One year ago he founded his first chapter of Amnesty, at Salinas High, and began to help other area schools do the same. Last summer he completed an internship at Amnesty’s San Francisco regional office, helping coordinate refugee aid in Darfur, Sudan, and pressure on the US government to denounce torture and provide basic rights to the people it detains. A month ago Glasscock spoke as the Amnesty representative for a panel on torture at Monterey Library.
Meanwhile, Glasscock is completing advanced placement classes at Salinas High, where he’s just a sophomore.
“Brian has a lot of initiative and he’s a self starter,” says Mona Cadena, deputy director of the Amnesty office in San Francisco. “I could give him four or five projects a day. I asked him what kinds of things would resonate with high school groups, and he was a great resource.”
Glasscock is matter-of-fact about his efforts. “I got involved with Amnesty because I felt that, as a person of privilege, I had a responsibility to do something about injustice in the world,” he says, “and I saw that, through Amnesty, I could take effective action.”
Even amongst a community of passionate activists, Cadena sees uncommon dedication in Glasscock. “I’ve worked with him before and after [his internship],” she says, “and projects have continued past his tenure here. In a lot of ways he’s become my go-to guy.”
In addition to Salinas High, Glasscock’s responsibilities as the region’s student coordinator take him to Stevenson, Notre Dame, and Pacific Grove High Schools. His projects include a push to establish an Amnesty presence on the Stevenson school radio station and an upcoming “Call Congress from Our ‘Cells’” event. Glasscock and other organizers will call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, where they feel people are being held under cruel conditions without charge or trial.
Glasscock says the “Cells” protest is designed to be dramatic and informative without losing its call to action. “We have people dress up in orange jumps suits and stand in this cell,” Glasscock says. “Then we have petitions and phones and scripts so people can then call Congress.”
This brand of awareness might seem strange amongst today’s teens. But Glasscock is the first to discredit what he sees as a “bad rap.”
“While some of us are apathetic, many care, and quite a few are active,” he says. “Youth make up 70 percent of our activist base; they truly are on the front lines of the fight for human rights.”
Cadena remembers that it was after watching a film following the daily struggles of a 13-year-old Sudanese refugee girl that Glasscock really got revved up about the Darfur situation. “I see this with other youth,” she says. “Some just see something and that becomes the spark for learning about the issues.”
Right now Glasscock is working on a project that perhaps only a 15-year-old could tackle. He spends a few hours a week logged on to Facebook, Myspace, and other online social networking sites popular among young people, gathering photos of online peers. He won’t stop until he’s collected 400,000—one for each of the 400,000 dead in Darfur.
“Many of these people signed up to host public demonstrations at their school using the photos,” Glasscock says, “and to deliver the photos to their representatives and senators, which is happening later this year.”
Glasscock’s activist resume continues to expand on other fronts too, whether he’s running the official Amnesty Myspace page or protesting in the streets against Israeli-Lebanese violence. After college he aspires to join the Peace Corps and later work for an NGO or the UN.
His mom knows how her socially observant 8-year-old has grown into an important agent for change before becoming eligible for a driver’s license: on his own. “None of this Amnesty interest came from a parent,” she says. “He has accomplished this completely independently.”
FOR MORE ON LOCAL AMNESTY ACTIVITY, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit amnestyusa.org/.