Minnesota Secretary Of State - Sec. Simon Awards National John Lewis Youth Leadership Award to Two Minnesotans
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Sec. Simon Awards National John Lewis Youth Leadership Award to Two Minnesotans

July 31, 2023

SAINT PAUL – On July 31, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon awarded two Minnesota youth leaders with the National Association of Secretary of State (NASS) John Lewis Youth Leadership Award. The award recognizes those 25 years or younger who have demonstrated leadership abilities, have a passion for social justice, and are motivated to improve the quality of life in their community.

The 2023 recipients of the John Lewis Youth Leadership Award are:

  • Ava Roots, former Minnesota Youth Council Representative for the Minnesota Alliance with Youth
  • Lilly Sasse, Campaign Director for We Choose Us

“We’re proud to present this award to two exceptional young people who are making a difference in their communities and the state,” said Secretary Simon. “Ava and Lilly have both gone above and beyond to partner with our office to advocate for youth voices and ensure we have a forward-thinking democracy representing all Minnesotans.”

Ava Roots is a 2023 graduate of Stillwater Area High School. As a junior and senior, she served as a Minnesota Youth Council Representative from the Minnesota Alliance with Youth creating positive change for Minnesotans of all backgrounds. As the Alliance’s Education Equity Chair, she worked with government agencies, non-profits, and other youth-led groups to ensure quality education for all students. She served as a vocal advocate for youth and mobilized students in her community.

Ava currently serves as a Team Lead for Stillwater Changemakers, where she organized, built, and is now maintaining a community garden that gives students opportunities to learn about sustainable agriculture and environmentalism.

Upon receiving the award, Roots emphasized the importance of bringing youth voices into the conversation on policy issues from education, to voting to environmental stewardship.

“It is particularly important that we look to the types of changemakers who are already taking the lead - recognizing the people who are already in these spaces but especially in bringing in those who don’t see themselves as capable of becoming these types of leaders,” said Roots. “By engraining these types of voices into our actions, I think we will find a way forward to meaningful change and one that invests in the future of Minnesota.”

Lilly Sasse is a 2020 graduate of the University of Minnesota. She is the Campaign Director of We Choose Us, a coalition of grassroots organizations, unions, and advocacy groups fighting for multiracial democracy in Minnesota. During the 2023 legislative session, Lilly advocated successfully for laws that will improve access to voting across our state including automatic voter registration, pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and restoring the right to vote.

In accepting the award, Sasse shared that expanding voting rights is about more than the act of voting itself but of creating a society that is representative of the people within it.

“A thriving democracy is foundational to meeting the needs of our communities,” said Sasse. “And that it’s going to require work to expand our ideas of what democracy can and should look like, both in and beyond the ballot box.”

Lilly Sasse, Secretary Steve Simon, Ava Roots

Photo: Lilly Sasse, Secretary Steve Simon, Ava Roots

About the NASS John Lewis Youth Leadership Award 

The John Lewis Youth Leadership Award was established in 2021 by the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS). The award honors the extraordinary accomplishments of Congressman John Lewis. 

His courageous achievements during the Civil Rights Movement and his long tenure of public service have inspired and will continue to inspire Americans for generations to come. In 1961, at the age of 21, Lewis was one of the original thirteen Freedom Riders. In 1963, Lewis was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington and one of the “Big Six” leaders that organized the march. In 1965, Lewis helped lead the Selma to Montgomery marches. The first march became a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement when unarmed marchers were attacked by state troopers as they crossed Edmund Pettus Bridge. Lewis’ activism continued throughout his life. He served as a U.S. Congressman for 33 years until his death in 2020.