Youth Changemaker: Michael Long

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Why I think it is important for Kansas government officials to operate in the light of day, rather than in secret, behind closed doors: 

“Michael has leapt head-first into Florida’s tumultuous political scene, standing his ground with Florida’s top legislators to preserve student representation and ensure wise policy. His immersion in the fabric of Florida’s politics is impressive and may even be unprecedented for a person of his age.”

 

- The Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council

Michael Long, 21, is a champion for effective juvenile justice and education policies in the state of Florida.

Michael the only student at New College of Florida to have served as President of the student body as a freshman; he represented over 330,000 students. He is also the youngest student to serve on the Florida Board of Governors.

Michael is accustomed to making waves as the captain of the sailing team, but was surprised by the splash he made in Florida's political arena when he criticized the creation of a twelfth state university. Michael recognized that the creation of an additional university in the state university system would stretch the already tight budgets allotted to support students and infrastructure at in the Florida state university system. For example, students were already experiencing 15 percent tuition increases for six consecutive years, and in 2011 the system suffered from a $300 million cut to education and general spending by the state.

Beyond not being able to fund the current eleven universities, Michael argued, the proposed twelfth university was not ready to become a stand-alone state university. Significant challenges relating to accreditation, recruitment, funding, infrastructure, and intellectual capital had not been assessed in their plan for independence, and Michael feared the state university system would plummet in quality if a new university was added.

Standing alone on a board of 17 members, he fought against powerful Florida legislators. Unfortunately, despite significant accreditation challenges, scant human and capital infrastructure, and losses of over $500 million to university funding in the past five years, the university became law.

But Mike didn't stop there. His political assertiveness continued—this time with great success—when Florida Congressmen Rep. Matt Gaetz and Senator Bill Montford proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would eliminate the student representative position Mike held on the State University System's governing board.

After a four-month statewide campaign to preserve this student representation, more than 4 million Floridians voted to save the position.  What's more, Mike's outspoken advocacy and willingness to speak up to power sparked a statewide conversation about integrity in politics.

After this victory, Florida Governor Rick Scott appointed him to serve on the State Advisory Group (SAG) to the Department of Juvenile Justice in 2012, which crafts policy impacting the lives of over 100,000 adjudicated youth in Florida.

Members of the SAG say Mike brings life to board meetings by sharing the stories of the youth he visits at juvenile programs across the state. He and his colleagues are working to launch a statewide poetry contest for incarcerated youth. They are also proposing policy recommendations as Florida rewrites its juvenile justice statutes in 2014.

Mike also founded the nonprofit SailFuture, which works with adjudicated youth. SailFuture utilizes sailing as a tool to improve the lives of at-risk youth. SailFuture works with local probation officers and community leaders to identify youth at-risk and offers them programs that incorporate college exposure, mentorship and sailing to distill confidence, inspire goal setting, and expose youth to new opportunities.

After graduation, Mike plans to sail around world with a crew of the youth he has mentored through SailFuture.

In 2011, The Tampa Bay Times named Mike Florida's "political winner for standing up for integrity."

Most recently, Mike was awarded the Harry S. Truman fellowship for public service.

“As our policymakers make decisions that will define our country over the next 100 years, I think it's important we consult the constituents who will live with those decisions,” says Michael.

“I hear the claims that youth lack the life experience and intellectual breadth to make informed decisions about the future," he says. "My fellow 24 Under 24 Youth Changemakers challenge that. I am humbled and surprised to be named one of the 24 Under 24—this group of informed and successful changemakers are proof that young people need a direct line of communication to amplify our generation's beliefs. We need a Presidential Youth Council."
 


This profile is one of the Top 24 Under 24 Youth Changemakers, a series hosted by SparkAction and the Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council to recognize young changemakers influencing policy and practice at the local, state and national levels.

The members of the youth-led Campaign chose the 24 youth who are featured in this series, from entries submitted by peers and mentors. Read about the selection process.

We’re always looking for more profiles of young people making a difference, so submit one of your own!