High school senior serves
on Human Rights Commission
The city of Forest Lake Human Rights Commission was formed to fight hate, prejudice and discrimination.
Its youngest member, Max Hall, is a natural fit.
Hall belongs to several organizations that fight human rights abuses. He is a member of the United Nations Association of Minnesota, a non-profit grass roots organization that works to promote the principles and goals of the United Nations.
Through the UN Association, Hall found out about other groups he is active in: Free the Slaves International, Youth for Human Rights International and the Human Rights Defense Organization.
Hall joined the Human Rights Commission after being nominated by Forest Lake Mayor Chris Johnson and approved by the council. “He comes to a lot of city council meetings and has shown a significant amount of interest and experience dealing with human rights issues,” Johnson said.
March 21 was the first human rights commission meeting that Hall attended. At the May 16 meeting, he presented the idea of an event to honor youth who have enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces. He had met with school district staff Carolyn Carr Latady, Steve Massey and Deb Wall, who concluded that the recognition aspect would take place during the high school academic awards night on June 3.
“Volunteering is essential for a successful democratic nation,” Hall wrote in an op-ed for the National Youth Rights Association, another movement he is associated with. “To live in a free and equal society, we must be willing to challenge the status quo when needed.”
Hall is the founder and president of the Washington County chapter of the National Youth Rights Association. In the Forest Lake Times Sept. 6 issue, Hall’s guest editorial focused on young people’s right to vote. “Because 16- and 17-year-olds work and pay taxes, they need the right to vote in governmental elections,” he wrote.
Hall was 16 when he organized the local chapter in 2010. Now it has about 15 kids, he said, concentrating mainly on another issue that affects youth: emancipation of minors.
“Some kids who didn’t have a good family life, and went through the court system, for small reasons were unable to get emancipation,” he said. “They don’t have legal rights. They can’t legally leave their parents. If they did, they would be called missing persons or runaways.”
Hall said his group has not changed anyone’s legal status but has provided a social support group.
To build connections with lawmakers, the group writes letters and makes phone calls. He said he has had an especially positive experience with two legislators: Sen. Ann Rest of New Hope and Rep. Karen Clark of Minneapolis, both Democrats.
Another issue Hall has taken on is hearing aids. He is one of the three public members of the Hearing Instrument Dispenser Advisory Council for the Minnesota Department of Health. The council works to ensure that people are not mistreated by hearing aid sellers. In cases of possible malpractice, the council sends an investigator to ask questions: Did they pass the exam? Are they competent? Are the hearing aids defective? In one case, Hall said, a hearing aid part was found to go bad after a certain amount of time.
To work with these groups, he travels to the Twin Cities for quarterly and annual meetings, and he’s been to the legislature about five times in the last couple months.
Hall said his mother sometimes attends meetings with him and has been very supportive of his efforts.
It was his mother who nominated him for the award that he received in February. Hall was one of two Forest Lake students receiving the 2013 Spirit of Community Award for exemplary volunteer service, presented by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
As a Forest Lake High School senior, Hall participates in debate and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions).
He’s been on the debate team for three years and is captain this year. Last week he traveled with the team to Philadelphia to compete in the national tournament. His topic was whether a just society should deliberately initiate war. To compete, the students must prepare and argue cases for both sides, pro and con.
“We write outlines for cases as a team, using on-line information and books,” he said.
To prepare for debates, he has read Milton Friedman on economics and Immanuel Kant on morals-based philosophy.
In reading philosophy, he said, he has been influenced by the admonition not to use people as a means to an end. “To achieve what you want in life, seek out your own ends. Do it yourself,” he said.
Hall participated in Lincoln/Douglas debate, which emphasizes logic, ethical values, and philosophy. Some of his opponents, he said, have been “critiquing the resolution”—arguing with the question—instead of debating the issue. “Lincoln/Douglas debate should be a policy debate. I like the clash of ideas.”
His high school classes were chosen to form the basis for a possible career in public service, with lots of history and English. “I took every English class except technical writing,” he said.
He named English teacher Robyn Madson and history teacher Heidi Link as two of his favorites. Madson is also the debate coach and teaches argumentation.
The most significant impact that high school had on his life, he said, was debate. “I urge everyone to join debate. You learn about other governments, economics, philosophy. You learn about human rights.”
Debate requires a tremendous amount of research, he said, but much of the work is done as a team.
Should incoming high-schoolers start debate right away, in 10th grade? “Absolutely!” Hall replied. “I was really scared at first, not sure I wanted to go to the informational meeting. The students did a practice debate for us. They were calm; they didn’t seem nervous.”
Hall said debate helps young people “step out of your box” and overcome fear of public speaking.
Hall plans to attend Century College in White Bear Lake for the next two years, commuting from home. After that he’d like to study political science and international relations, possibly at Hamline University.
The appointment to the Forest Lake Human Rights Commission lasts three years. Hall said he will continue serving on the commission while in college.