He used to be homeless. Now he's a mayor. And he's only 28.

When you walk into the office of the 28-year-old mayor of Ithaca, New York, you get an instant taste of what it means to have a young person running your city.

An LED display mounted above the couch in his office flashes text messages that are sent directly to the mayor, Svante Myrick. The messages aren’t censored and are posted instantly for anyone within eyesight to read.


Photo by Blake Fall-Conroy, used with permission.

"Could you please pave James St.? The holes are really bad!" read one recent message. "Think about a bike system like citi bikes for Ithaca! Could promote green transport," another suggested.

Not all of them are so serious: "Stop staring at this sign and get back to work!"

The board is an installation created by local artist Blake Fall-Conroy, and all of the texts can also be read online. "It was always about open communication, by anyone at any time, about anything, whether that's good or bad," said Fall-Conroy.

Myrick came of age in the time of smartphones and Snapchat, so this sort of innovation fits him perfectly.

A selfie with city hall staff on Christmas Eve in 2014.

"It’s a new public square," Myrick said in an interview with Upworthy. "Some people feel very comfortable calling my office or writing a letter. Other people use Twitter and Facebook. It means more people have my ear. And, the more constituents you hear from, the better job you can do."

Myrick was elected mayor of Ithaca in 2011, making him the youngest mayor in the city’s history and the first African-American to hold the office.

Snow gear: an important part of the job. Photo via Facebook, used with permission.

One of his earliest decisions as mayor went viral. After selling his car, he put benches and planters in his mayoral parking spot and changed the sign to read "Reserved for Mayor and Friends." The day the sign was installed, someone snapped a picture of it, and by that evening, it appeared in an article on The Huffington Post. Four years later, some people still refer to him as "the parking space guy."

Myrick and his family after he won his first mayoral campaign. Photo via Facebook, used with permission.

Myrick hoped the gesture would signal that positive change was coming, that how the streets and sidewalks were treated would be improved. The idea reflects his vision of a more dense, more walkable city.

It’s a vision he shares with his generation. More young people are living in cities than 35 years ago, and most choose urban neighborhoods where they can walk or take public transportation. They want to be close to coffee shops, their offices, and restaurants. When surveyed, they say they want a home where they can feel like a part of a community and have a positive impact.

With Cornell's mascot, the Big Red Bear. Photo via Facebook, used with permission.

His youth helps him connect with young people in Ithaca, a college town characterized by the presence of Cornell University and Ithaca College, but he’s also very different from some of those constituents.

One of the things that sets Myrick apart from many of his peers is his childhood, which was spent in the throes of poverty.

After he was born, his mother came home from the hospital to find a red eviction notice tacked to the door. The family slipped in and out of homelessness, living in shelters and spending a few nights sleeping in the car.

Photo via Facebook, used with permission.

Eventually they moved to the one-stoplight town of Earlville, New York, to be close to Myrick’s grandparents.

Myrick, far right, with his siblings. Photo via Facebook, used with permission.

Myrick’s mother worked several jobs to raise him and his three siblings. Each month, she would write on the back of an envelope what she had made and what the bills were. Then the children would add what they wanted and together they would decide how to spend her paychecks.

"She brought us right into the household decision-making," Myrick said. "This is what we have and what we want. We could decide, 'This is the third notice from the gas company so we should pay that over the phone bill because they only sent one.'"

Growing up in poverty also sparked Myrick’s interest and passion for government.

Because his family relied on food stamps, free lunches, and other social programs, he became aware of what government was and why it was important at an early age. It’s also why he became a Democrat.

He explained his path to the party during a 2014 award acceptance speech at the JFK Library in Boston. "We are successful when we take care of each other, when we look out for each other," he said. To Myrick, the Democrats best embodied that message.

A 2013 selfie at the White House. Used with permission.

After learning of Myrick’s high SAT scores, one of his high school teachers encouraged him to take advanced placement classes and to consider Cornell. He was accepted in 2005.

He worked four jobs to help pay for college, including one gig as an assistant to a council member on Ithaca's city council. After the member announced he would be retiring, he encouraged Myrick to run for his seat, which he won in 2008, during his junior year of college.

On the council, Myrick focused on youth engagement and education but also discovered a passion for urban planning.

He admits it sounds boring, but he believes zoning dictates much of our lives — where people live, where they go to school, what kind of commute they’ll have. He created a new platform for his city council re-election and realized it was full of things only a mayor could do. So he ran for mayor in 2011.

After an aggressive campaign and lots of door-knocking, Myrick won the mayor’s seat.

In his first term, he closed a $3 million structural budget deficit, the largest the city had ever faced. He worked to rebuild the downtown pedestrian shopping area known as "the Commons" and fought to rezone the city to make it more walkable and include more mixed-use housing.

Via Facebook: "I'm not actually dressed up. I just wear my superman pajamas under my clothes every day ... they give me power." Image used with permission.

When Myrick first ran for mayor, people were skeptical about the impact he could have.

"I had people tell me at the door they weren’t voting for me because I was too young," he said. "They assume you don’t have a deep Rolodex, that you’re immature."

This past fall, Myrick won a second term with 89% of the vote.

The young mayor is frequently compared to President Barack Obama.

Both are biracial men raised by single white mothers. Like Obama, Myrick is considered a rising star in politics. As you might imagine, he’s frequently asked about his plan for the future.

"I don’t know what comes next," said Myrick. "I’m excited to do this for four more years. You become qualified to run for state offices at 30. I still have a couple of years to think about it."

Photo via Facebook, used with permission.

As for the comparisons to the president, Myrick is flattered. He says Obama is an "inspiration," and Myrick aspires to achieve the commander-in-chief’s cool, calm demeanor. While he respects Obama deeply, Myrick says his personality more closely mirrors another top-ranking Democrat.

"I’m more Joe Biden," he says. "I grew up in a place like Scranton, hardscrabble, rural, fairly conservative."

Perhaps most importantly in the political space, Myrick also shares the vice president’s notorious loquaciousness: "If you get me talking, it’s hard to get me to stop."

Watch Mayor Svante Myrick share what he's learned in the Upworthy Original video below:

More
True
The CW

As a child, Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia's parents didn't ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Instead, her father would ask, "Are you going to be a doctor? Are you going to be an engineer? Or are you going to be an entrepreneur?"

Little did he know that she would successfully become all three: an award-winning biomedical and mechanical engineer who performs cutting-edge medical research and has started multiple companies.

Bhatia holds an M.D. from Harvard University, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, and a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT. Bhatia, a Wilson professor of engineering at MIT, is currently serving as director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, where she's working on nanotechnology targeting enzymes in cancer cells. This would allow cancer screenings to be done with a simple urine test.

Bhatia owes much of her impressive career to her family. Her parents were refugees who met in graduate school in India; in fact, she says her mom was the first woman to earn an MBA in the country. The couple immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, started a family, and worked hard to give their two daughters the best opportunities.

"They made enormous sacrifices to pick a town with great public schools and really push us to excel the whole way," Bhatia says. "They really believed in us, but they expected excellence. The story I like to tell about my dad is like, if you brought home a 96 on a math test, the response would be, 'What'd you get wrong?'"

Keep Reading Show less
Packard Foundation
True

Someday, future Americans will look back on this era of school shootings in bafflement and disbelief—not only over the fact that it happened, but over how long it took us to enact significant legislation to try to stop it.

Five people die from vaping, and the government talks about banning vaping devices. Hundreds of American children have been shot to death in their classrooms, sometimes a dozen or so at a time, and the government has done practically nothing. It's unconscionable.

Keep Reading Show less
Education & Information
via Hollie Bellew-Shaw / Facebook

For those of us who are not on the spectrum, it can be hard to perceive the world through the senses of someone with autism.

"You could think of a person with autism as having an imbalanced set of senses," Stephen Shore, assistant professor in the School of Education at Adelphi University, told Web MD.

"Some senses may be turned up too high and some turned down too low. As a result, the data that comes in tends to be distorted, and it's very hard to perceive a person's environment accurately," Shore continued.

Keep Reading Show less
Education & Information
Truth

Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign, is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

truth
True