Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
September 3, 2020
Born and raised in Bainbridge, 2019 Kenston High School Senior Class President Andrew Britten is preparing to bring his volunteering and community activism familiarity out of state when he leaves for Air Force training in Texas.
“It’s day by day,” he said over the phone. “I realize, as I get closer, sometimes I’m excited and I’m like ‘let’s go, let’s do this.’ It’s going to be an experience for me because I’ve never been away from home that long.”
Mr. Britten, 19, caught the spotlight in June when he addressed a 200-strong crowd during the Black Lives Matter protests that were occurring in Chagrin following the death of George Floyd.
“They claim to be Christian, but refuse to love thy neighbor,” he said during his speech. “This town is sick in its illusion of white comfort.’ He ended his address by going off-mic with a reading of many of the names of black Americans who had been killed by law enforcement officers.
But that wasn’t Mr. Britten’s first foray into community activism, having volunteered and worked at the Chagrin Falls Park Community Center in Bainbridge as well as the WomenSafe shelter in Chardon.
“At one point I was tutoring during the school year,” he explained about his work at the community center. “For two years, I did food distribution to the kids, so whenever lunch was being delivered I made sure I signed off on it and the temperature was at a proper safety standard, to keep track of the meals. This year was really unique because it was something I hadn’t done before, but I taught a class called social skills to each of the groups.”
He said his work in tutoring and then working as a summer camp counselor at the community center has brought him full circle since he as a youth took advantage of those services.
Mr. Britten also volunteered at Hamlet Village, a Chagrin Falls senior living community.
“That one was really fun for me because my grandfather is somebody I have a lot of respect for and I have respect for older people because I like listening to their stories,” he recalled. “I really got to like the people down there because they are nice and we’d get to talk about whatever.”
These experiences have helped Mr. Britten gave him the inspiration to run for class president at Kenston High School last year.
“Before that I wasn’t involved in studying politics,” he said. “I didn’t care, to be honest with you. In this world, I’ve learned as I’ve grown older, if people have a problem with something, if you’re not doing everything in your power to change what you disagree with, there’s not much point in talking about it.”
Key to his success as president, Andrew said, was his commitment to fulfil a lot of the promises he had made to classmates including the introduction of pep rallies, something not done before. Kenston had two pep rallies, one in the first half of the year for a football game and another in the second half for a basketball game.
“Another promise I got to keep is talking to people and reaching out to them for what they want,” he said. “Throughout the four years of high school, I don’t think anyone had been reached out to by a class officer. I took people’s opinions into consideration and used them to make decisions. I felt good giving them a voice and feeling heard and made them aware of everything going on.”
Mr. Britten has plans to become a broadcast journalist for the Air Force at their base in Lackland, Texas, more than 1,100 miles away from home.
“I feel like, as time moved on and I became a leader and was in a position where I would be talking to people, whether on stage or a broadcast, I would become accustomed to it,” he said. “I gave one of the speeches at graduation back in 2019. If we’d done it sophomore year, I probably wouldn’t have done it.”