August 20, 2017

As the second youngest elected official in the New York State Assembly, Robert “Bobby” Carroll wants to see more young people active in their communities. On a recent afternoon, Carroll met with the teen staff of The Ditmas Examiner for an hour discussing arts, gentrification, LGBT safety and Brooklyn pizza. Below is a transcript of the conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Ditmas Examiner: Compared to other countries like England, China, India and others our high school education does not rank among the best. I came here from Bangladesh a year ago. The studies we did there in eighth grade are taught here in 10th grade. What is the reason for this?

Assemblymember Carroll: USA is an enormous country. The education system cannot be centralised and is left to the states to control. Each state has its own curriculum and its own standards. It is therefore difficult to always maintain an universal standard.

Diversity plays a great role. We have people from all over the globe and to pack them into a bunch and teach everyone at the same pace is a challenge.

DE: As the chair of the housing committee, how does gentrification affect your work?

Carroll: We want people to move here, the question is how do we make sure that it’s about folks actually working to build a life in New York and not have an economic system that is overly beneficial to folks who are speculating in the real estate market. Zoning laws can vastly disrupt neighborhoods. So if you build some very new modern housing in what is a very working class area [it can] disrupt the entire housing market around it. You can create real havoc for people and housing instability disrupts entire communities.

New York has always been a city that has been expensive. It has become so expensive now that so many people who want to stay here cannot think of a way they can stay here. That’s why gentrification is such a big issue.

DE: What are your thoughts about having an LGBTQ center here in Ditmas Park?

Carroll: For the most part, so many people are not only comfortable with the idea of gay marriage, they understand that it’s a totally normal part of society and of our families. And we can see with the election of someone like President Trump is that all it takes one person to send people back into the shadows.

I definitely know individuals who’ve gone to LGBTQ centers and that was a refuge. Talking to someone who’s a little bit older, somebody who’s done it before and won’t judge them is a really important idea so I think it’s a great idea.

DE: What makes this part of Brooklyn so great for teens?

Carroll: Brooklyn is a gateway. So much of American culture and identity have been shaped by Brooklyn. You look at the people who went to James Madison High School, Erasmus High School or Midwood and you see that they’re not just famous actors or famous singer or directors but they’re chief justices in the Supreme Court, United States Senators, there are scientists.

DE: Who has better food, Queens or Brooklyn?

Carroll: With the amount of food, Queens is obvious winner. It has every cuisine under the sun. But if it comes to the best bagel, pizza and even hot dogs, Brooklyn is the real winner.

DE: You directed a play in 2014 that premiered on the Upper West Side. What would you do to make the arts more accessible for teens, including those living in Ditmas Park? Many of the teens I interviewed for my article have never experienced a Broadway performance before, despite the Theatre District being only 13 miles away.

Carroll: I think the unfortunate thing about the arts is that there’s something inaccessible [about it]. Sometimes people go, “Oh that’s not for me. Oh, I don’t feel like I should go there. I don’t know if I’ll like it. I don’t know if I’ll fit in.” That’s something we need to shake up by bringing some of those arts to schools or communities by melding different forms of the arts.

It’s like trying new food, right? If you never had something, and you go, “I don’t know how to do this. Let me just have some rice.” You’re missing out on all the good stuff, but because you go “I don’t want to do something that’s incorrect” or “I don’t want to look foolish.”

DE: What are you doing to include teens in your work?

Carroll: I am doing more to get teens into politics than any other person in the New York State Assembly. I have a bill that will lower the voting age from 18 to 17. There’s a statistic out there that says if you don’t vote by the time you’re 25, you’re never gonna become a regular voter. It’s a habit. The idea is to get folks while they are in high school before they graduate to be able to vote at least once. And to educate teens about civics.

We really do get the government we deserve. If people aren’t out there actively engaged you are going to see those consequence. The people who are engaged are going to win. You gotta be a voter to actually have an impact.

A lot of time they are talking about “future you” problems. But there are two issues that are facing us right now that if more young people were more engaged you could make a difference: How much it costs to go to college and housing. Unfortunately it is hard for young people to related to the elected officials that we have. Our high schools need to do a better job teaching civics. The more people don’t vote the more they amplify the voices that do count.

DE: Next year the Assembly will be voting on the Student Journalist Free Speech Act that makes it harder for administrators to censor journalism in a school setting. Do you support this bill?

Carroll: I think I would vote in favor in it. I would assume a school has said, for safety reasons, that they have curtailed certain speech. But if someone wants to, in a thoughtful way, discuss what their views are a controversial international or national debate, then I’m a firm believer of that. Freedom of Speech means you are going to listen to speech you are not going to like.