Gabriel Spinks had lived all over Minneapolis by the time he entered Northeast’s Edison High. Born to teen parents and no stranger to Section 8 housing, he grew up an angry kid who didn’t know how to channel hardships at home into anything positive.
An English teacher pressed him to seek the student representative position on the district school board. Spinks distrusted authority and thought government antithetical to who he was. An inner voice doubted his ability. But when Spinks applied anyway and got the approval, he realized he’d been given a chance to represent students like him.
During the term he served as a sophomore, the school board considered whether police working in schools should wear their traditional uniforms or a polo version. Many of the adults wanted that soft uniform to assuage students’ anxiety. Spinks took the unpopular stance, arguing kids wouldn’t encounter polo-wearing cops on the street, so why should they in school? He was outvoted, but the experience left him with a newfound respect for the hardworking staff who support elected officials in designing the world.
In his junior year, Spinks joined the Minneapolis Youth Congress, a representative body of youth who work in concert with elected officials to decide policy. He was trained to analyze grant proposals and helped the Minneapolis Foundation assign half a million dollars to various nonprofits—a skill he used to fund Edison’s district-champion chess team’s travel to a national tournament.
Later, Spinks helped the city draft a Youth Master Plan, a vision of the future through the lens of kids. Spinks says Minneapolis shows foresight in mobilizing students to inform government policy on topics like Minneapolis 2040, a comprehensive plan for a thriving, more populous city a generation from now.
“When this 2040 plan is enacted, the people in office aren’t going to be there anymore. It’s going to affect youth the most.”
After graduating from Edison, Spinks interned with City Council member Kevin Reich. He’s now enrolled at Bemidji State University, where he’ll study tribal law.
“You must assert your voice in the system,” Spinks came to realize from his ventures into the messy work of local governance. “Learn to swim in this medium.”