Simone Ewell-Szabo: Bay Area Teen, Concerned Citizen
“I think adults think that we’re brain-dead, technology-addicted kids.”
Medium: Have you lived in the Bay Area all your life?
Simone Ewell-Szabo: My dad’s been in the Bay all my life. My parents broke up when I was little, and my mom used to live up in Grenville and in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but now they’re both in the Bay Area.
It’s definitely a bubble, but it’s a bubble that I’m glad I’m in. Historically, just the fact that I go to Berkeley High and we’re five blocks from a UC campus that’s been doing amazing demonstrations forever is pretty inspiring. The people who go to my school are very inspired politically and artistically, and I really think that’s because we live in Berkeley in the Bay Area.
Are you planning on voting this fall?
Yes, I am planning on voting this fall. I actually preregistered today.
What issues are you thinking about as you’re getting ready to vote?
Especially as a young woman, I am worried that the rights women had to fight for are going to be taken away. At Berkeley High, we have an amazing health center, we have birth control and condoms distributed to the students, and we have really good sexual education. I’m hoping that is going to spread across the country, not be rescinded by the government.
I am also concerned with gun safety. The fact that someone can go to Walmart and purchase a semiautomatic weapon doesn’t seem okay. And that the people who are meant to be protecting the citizens of this country can kill so many unarmed people and get away with it.
What do adults get wrong about your generation?
I think adults, and especially millennials, think that we’re brain-dead, technology-addicted kids. Maybe it’s true, we’re addicted to technology. But we are a very passionate generation. Maybe because we have social media and are able to connect on platforms, but people my age are very, very passionate about the things that they do. We’re like, “Okay, we’re going into the world, and the world is not great, and we have a lot of things that we want to change.” I think the idea that we’re unmotivated is what people get wrong.
What keeps you up at night?
The fact that there are unarmed black people being shot in the streets and a correctional officer getting off. There are people in other countries, but also in this country, who are kids, who are my age or younger, who don’t have enough to eat.
The fact that in the U.S., 50 percent of the food that the average American buys will end up in the trash can. Fifty percent. We have 100 percent, if not 300 percent, of the resources to feed the people on this planet and take care of them, and we can’t manage it.
It makes me sick to my stomach when I hear the way people talk. I know everyone comes from their own reality, but we’re like, “Oh my God, my iPhone is cracked and my mom won’t pay to fix it. My life is so hard.” Like, no it’s not. And I’m guilty of this as well.
And living in the Bay, you probably have an even more intense sense of that, because the Bay has taken on the same cultural status as Wall Street in the 1980s.
Exactly. My dad was a jazz musician until I was about 12, but then he went to business school. He got his degree in business, and now he works at Apple. I’m sitting in the little office space of a beautiful house in the Kensington Hills.
But my mom is a spiritual healer. She works with people and she helps clear energies. So I’ve always lived in a dual reality. She actually had to move a couple hours away because it’s too expensive in the Bay Area. So I feel the economic differences in my community when I go from house to house. I’m really lucky that I have my dad to take care of my basic needs and my mom to keep me from taking it for granted.
Who inspires you?
One of my best friends, whose mom was addicted to heroin when she was pregnant with my friend. And my friend was born into a very, very unsafe environment. She had to be taken away from her mom for a long time. When she finally got her [mom] back, her mom was on the straight and narrow and had a job and doing what she does.
But in the last year or so, [her mom has] completely relapsed. To see someone I care about have to deal with that and have to grow up so quickly, the fact that she’s still so open to love and friendship and the opportunities that she can have, it’s inspiring. And it makes me so hopeful that even with the pain that is pushed down on us as kids, all the people I see in my life persevering through that and making their life.
This interview is part of The Edge of Adulthood: Forty-Six American Teens Discuss Their Lives, Their Struggles, and What’s Next.