Alex in Style

November 28, 2007

We awoke yesterday morning to learn that one of our beloved Washington Redskins had died. Rest in peace, Sean Taylor. 🙁

But under the Washington Post pages about the fallen #21 of our hallowed NFL team, news which has shaken the DC area quite a bit (seriously, those of you who don’t live around here wouldn’t understand, the Redskins are serious business!), is a profile article in the Style section meant to give hope to us all, especially our young friends.

It’s called Age Is Just a Number: Youth Rights Advocate Tries to Break Down Barriers to Adulthood. And it is featuring our very own NYRA and our very own Alex Koroknay-Palicz!

Click that link and read it. Then come back here for more comments. I’ll wait.

Oh, good. You’re back. Isn’t it great? Let’s review it, shall we?

To the casual visitor, Dupont Circle on this lovely autumn afternoon is a friendly, inclusive space.

To Alex Koroknay-Palicz, executive director of the National Youth Rights Association and voice in the wilderness, the Circle is a cold microcosm of a deeply divided world. And it’s the perfect observation deck for pointing out the myriad ways American society devalues the lives of young people.

Go Alex! 😀

In untucked blue-striped shirt, khaki cargo shorts and sneakers, Koroknay-Palicz, 26, takes off his shades and points toward a:

– bank where you have to be 18 years old to open a checking account;

– sandwich shop that doesn’t hire anyone under 18;

– drugstore where 17-year-olds can’t buy certain cough medicines;

– movie theater where anyone under 17 who wants to see an R-rated movie must be accompanied by an adult.

He could, he says, go on and on. And for the next couple of hours, he does.

You people still think overt discrimination is a thing of the past? Think again! But it’s for their protection right? Oh, sure, because if a 17-year-old were to work in a sandwich shop and gain work experience and a taste of the adult world, he would shrivel up and die! Please. But, well, Alex seems to be already pointing that out nicely. 🙂

Seen through his eyes, the city is hostile to young people. And the United States is a repressive country that should lower voting and drinking ages and lift all curfews. In fact, Koroknay-Palicz (pronounced koh-ROCK-nay PAL-is) believes that all age-based restrictions — on driver’s licenses, tobacco purchases, car rentals — should be challenged.

Eh, makes us sound unpatriotic a bit, which couldn’t be further from the truth, but the rest is about right. And, yes, his last name is quite fun to say. Hey, girls, he’s single! Marry him and take that long funny name. Or if you already have a hyphenated name, attach them and make four last names! That’d be hilarious. But I digress.

Just about any age restriction, he says, can be replaced with a competency test. If a young person wants to drink, for instance, he could be required to attend classes that teach responsibility and moderation. He would then receive a license to drink. Same with smoking, voting, driving and many other activities.

Well, that sounds more like what Choose Responsibility wants than what we want. Really, the classes aren’t necessary, or at least not this late in life. Maybe at a much earlier age when teaching proper eating habits in general, add in the alcohol thing. Instill responsible use from an early age rather than just saying “ZOMG! It will kill you!” all the time. Not saying anyone that much younger should really be drinking, but it helps to at least know what it is and to handle it with care. But, yeah, other countries don’t have the same alcohol attitude we do. There’s no reason for our drinking age being so high. Drop it to 18. It’ll be fine, so long as other precautions are taken, precautions that could stand to be taken even now. As for licensing the other things, I don’t know. Seems too bureaucratic. Competency tests for voting? Hell no! For driving? Um, I think there already is one. 😉

To him, the denial of youth rights is more than ageist effrontery, it’s a civil rights issue.

Yes! Why don’t more people see that? Always with the excuses, but it doesn’t take away that fact.

It takes a certain kind of grown-up to champion such a cause — someone who hasn’t forgotten the indignities of youth. Someone who can live in Washington on an $8,000-a-year salary. And someone who can face the issue’s greatest enemy: getting people to take it seriously.

I’ve said not-nice things about Alex in the past, but THAT makes him seriously awesome and worthy of all kinds of respect. He gives his all to this, for his fellow NYRA members, for all the youth of the United States and maybe even the whole world.

For Koroknay-Palicz, the mission began at home. An only child, he grew up in a working-class family in Holland, Mich. His father mans the midnight shift at a power plant. His mother took classified ads for the Grand Rapids Press until a couple of years ago.

Power plant? Come to think of it, Alex’s hair does seem a bit spiky. :cute:

“There was always love in our family,” Koroknay-Palicz says. “What I didn’t have was respect. My parents didn’t respect me.”

Sounds like my family. And every other family. So, yeah, he’s just like everybody else! :b:

He had a paper route when he was 9 years old and his own checking account when he was 10. He felt financially self-reliant and he wanted to spend his money as he saw fit, but, he says, his parents didn’t let him. Like the time in middle school when he wanted to buy a mini-fridge to put in his basement room. They said no.

Wanting the mini-fridge, but the parents say no. We’ve ALL been there! In fact, I still think having one in my room would be cool! But I digress. Now, the paper route and checking account thing? Not bad at that age. People say kids should be “protected” from those sort of things. I say it’s something that teaches kids more about basic life skills than school ever could.

Koroknay-Palicz says he was annoyed by his parents’ desire for control. At one point he even thought about filing for legal separation from his parents, known in youth-rights circles as emancipation.

What do you mean “known in youth rights circles”? That’s what it’s actually called. Funny. I keep wanting to follow it with “proclamation”.

His parents, however, don’t have the same memories. “Alex sees that there was conflict in our family; we see it as parents setting down rules,” his mother, Margo, 53, says in a phone interview.

Rules must have real reason. But, yeah, you gave birth to Alex, so you’re cool for that.

“We raised Alex to be an independent person,” father Robert, 61, says. He adds that it looks as though they have succeeded.

“Be careful what you wish for,” Margo says.

Be careful indeed. All parents hate that, right?

She is proud of her son: “He does not drink. He doesn’t smoke. He doesn’t do drugs. He’s a good person.” He doesn’t want anything controlling his life, she says, alcohol or chemicals or other people, including his parents.

“I remember him wanting to be emancipated,” she says. “But I don’t remember the mini-fridge incident.”

Yeah, he even goes to church every Sunday. Alex is a good Catholic boy! As for you not remembering the mini-fridge incident, that’s where he gets his poor memory from! Ha! It’s all your fault. Or maybe it’s a guy thing. Then again, you’re a woman, so I’m all confused again. Oh, well.

As a senior in high school, Koroknay-Palicz and his friend, Buddy Halbert Jr., noticed that a few small convenience stores had put signs on their doors forbidding entry to more than two students at one time. “They were akin to the Jim Crow laws that I had studied in school,” Koroknay-Palicz says.

And you people probably don’t think high school students pay attention in school. For shame! These guys are smarter than you! They’re calling you out for being hypocrites. Lots of other people do that too. I think one of them is someone whose birthday we’re celebrating soon.

Eventually, Koroknay-Palicz appeared before the city council. The city’s human relations committee got involved and the signs were removed. That was the genesis of Koroknay-Palicz’s youth rights advocacy campaign.

Win Alex is win.

“Alex was very committed to youth rights even back in high school,” says Halbert, 27, who lives in Fenton, Mich., and is head cook at a Ruby Tuesday. “Young people need a voice.”

The cook says so. The cook speaks truth.

The next summer, Koroknay-Palicz discovered the National Youth Rights Association, which at the time was just a Web site run by a handful of young people. In 1999 he moved to Washington to attend American University, and in 2000 he became executive director of NYRA. He left college after three years.

Ah, yes. The year was 1492, and Alex convinced Queen Isabella that the world was not flat, but that there was a youth rights organization that he could discover and find gold. Er, no, wait, that’s another story. Got myself mixed up there! The gold would be cool, though.

Since 2001, Koroknay-Palicz has lived in a group home in Rockville, just off Veirs Mill Road. He has a small room in the back of the house with a bed, a desk and a computer. On the walls, posters — Spider-Man, scantily clad supermodel Ashley Richardson — and photos of family and friends. His rent is $345 a month.

I wouldn’t call it a “group” home. Maybe “shared house” would be a better term. The former sounds like he’s in some kind of facility, though if I drive him nuts much more, he might be. Hehehe. Check and check on the Spiderman and the model, but he’s also got a Star Wars poster, damn it! And they printed his rent? Seems weird to me. I wouldn’t want my rent printed like that. Well, okay, at the moment it’s zero as I live with my grandmother, but still.

He drives a 1989 Grand Marquis. “It’s the only car I have ever had, since I was 16,” he says.

THABOAT!!!!! 😀

Next year NYRA will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Today there are in various cities some 10 active chapters, “which come and go, depending on who graduates,” Koroknay-Palicz says. He is excited about a new group at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Fear the Turtle! :doitnow:

He is the only full-time paid employee. The board is composed of nine young people, including several high school students.

And I’m one of them! Not one of the students, but still one of the nine!

The nonprofit organization, Koroknay-Palicz adds, had two main goals for this year: Find an office and somehow develop “more of a real-world presence.”

Well, at least he found an office — $500-a-month digs he rents from Common Cause. It’s a tiny room, really, smaller than his Rockville bedroom, packed with two desks, three donated desktop computers and three chairs on the ninth floor of a 19th Street NW office building. There are no windows. Koroknay-Palicz shares the space with a parade of interns.

It’s not without its charm. NYRA office = win.

Posters on the wall include one for the National Youth Agency — a lower-the-voting-age coalition in Great Britain, where the threshold is also 18. Koroknay-Palicz points out that several countries in the world, including Brazil and Nicaragua, allow citizens to vote at 16. Austria lowered its voting age to 16 this year.

Hear that, fellow Americans? Are we going to let Brazil, Nicaragua, and Austria be all like “hey, look at us, we value our teens more than you do”? No! Let’s lower our voting age. Why? Because we’re the United States. That’s right! I told you we were patriotic!

On the bookshelves: “How Children Fail” by John Holt, “Birthrights” by Richard Evans Farson and “Framing Youth: 10 Myths About the Next Generation” by Mike A. Males. These are bibles in the youth rights movement.

And I haven’t read any of those yet. I feel so dirty. I did read “The Case Against Adolescence” by Dr. Robert Epstein, though. It’s one of the important ones and just came out this year. Alex is even quoted on the back! Is there anything this ambitious Hungarian can’t do? Well, yes, he can’t beat my score on Space Invaders in the arcade on our message board, but he’s still cool.

Males, a senior research fellow at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, is given to observations such as this, from an e-mail to The Washington Post: “When a broad array of rights are denied to youths, important adult skills are not learned in adolescence. Adolescents must learn them on their own or arrive with little experience in adulthood, a period in which skills are harder to learn.”

I met Mike Males last year at our annual meeting in San Francisco. Smart man.

At the headquarters, a high school intern works on the computer that holds the membership list. There are 7,500 names in the association’s database, but only 150 pay to belong. “Young people don’t have much money,” Koroknay-Palicz points out. Dues are $10 a month. Some students who can afford more send in larger donations.

No! Wrong! It’s not $10 a month. It’s $10 a year! We don’t shake down our members THAT badly!

NYRA’s annual budget last year was about $16,000. Koroknay-Palicz has subsidized his salary of $8,000 by working at an auto parts store and tutoring. He eats a lot of ramen noodles.

Even though he ain’t got money, he’s so in love with this, honey!

Youth rights is not a front-burner issue. It’s more like an all-day roux on the back of the stove, simmering, occasionally receiving a stir.

You know, before I read this article, I was randomly thinking “what’s that Cajun stuff called, that spicy stuff that has to simmer for like a day and slowly stirred?” and I read this and I’m like “yes, that’s it! roux!” :cute:

At a recent Democratic debate, for example, someone asked the candidates if they were in favor of removing the requirement that a state must have a legal drinking age of 21 to receive federal highway funds. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson and Christopher Dodd all opposed lifting the requirement.

Only Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich were in favor of lowering the drinking age. Kucinich even said he wants to lower the voting age to 16.

Gravel and Kucinich = win. The rest of them, see the light! Quit insulting your young voters!

“I thought that Kucinich’s call for lowering the voting age . . . was bizarre,” Chris Matthews said on MSNBC after the debate. Matthews was echoing the sentiments of many Americans. “I mean, do you get it with your bicycle?”

Quiet you!

Jabs like that don’t help the youth rights movement gain gravitas.


On the home page of the group’s Web site,, are these words: “The Last Civil Rights Movement.”

I hate that slogan.

Jackie Woinsky, 26, one of Koroknay-Palicz’s college friends, teaches first grade in Silver Spring. She admires him. “A lot of ideas can seem crazy and off-the-wall at first,” she says. “Other similar civil rights movements have gone through similar paths.”

Damn it, Woinsky! Get off my turf! :doitnow:

But Julian Bond, chairman of the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a veteran of the civil rights movement, says he is not sure that the youth rights push qualifies. “Kids obviously do have human rights,” he says, “but society has decided, and properly, I think, that they are not mature enough to have certain rights: the right to drive, to go to an X-rated movie, the right to buy cigarettes. I think society has made wise decisions, the right decisions, about the rights given to young people.”

You, sir, are sadly mistaken. Seems people can’t just learn that discrimination based on superficial qualities is bad all around. Have to chip away at one piece of that at a time. Oh, well, I guess that’s why we youth rights folks are here.

Not far from Dupont Circle, Koroknay-Palicz strolls past a convenience store that — like the mini-marts that ticked him off in the first place — restricts the number of students allowed inside at one time. Nearby is a YMCA that you can’t join unless you are 18 and the U-topia Bar & Grill, where you must be 21 or older to stay past 11 p.m.

Funny. Do this to older adults, and you’ll never hear the end of an affront to rights. Do it to youth and “it’s for protection”. This double-standard is based, of course, on absolutely nothing.

True utopia, Koroknay-Palicz says, will be a place where “society will look at people as they are, not judge them by their birth dates.” People who are mature, he says, should be allowed to make decisions for themselves.


If there were competency tests for each individual issue — drinking, driving, voting — “industries would arise,” he says, “that would teach young people how to be an adult.”

Well, maybe those industries should arise anyway. Because of young people being so isolated from adults, they grow up ignorant of the adult world, and have trouble beginning. We’re forsaking our young friends just to make ourselves think we’re protecting them, but really we’re harming them. We can’t keep pushing them away with the same old “you’re not old enough” excuse. The best thing to do is share our world with them.

It’s true, he says, that American society coddles young people, caters to them, builds commercial empires around their comfort and consumption. It’s also true, he says, that “adults do everything in their power to shield and protect youth from the outside world.”

Yeah, also what I just said. Sad thing is, so many people mistake this coddling and forced “protection” for having rights. Very, very different things.

But such an argument reminds him of arguments he has heard before. “A lot of societies will tell you they care very much about women — respect them, hold them in high esteem. But they don’t listen to them,” he says. “They don’t ask women what they want.”

Exactly! Damn, Alex is awesome!

Youth rights initiatives can’t get traction, he says, because baby boomers grew up and stopped caring about youth. “The rights they fought for are no longer important to them,” he says.

This comment probably should have been accompanied with a bit more explanation, as standing alone, it might look a little odd if you aren’t already familiar with this sort of thing. Basically, the baby boomers were the hippies who wanted rights for everybody but, as Brian Griffin of Family Guy puts it “they lost the values and kept the weed”.

And so Koroknay-Palicz labors on — against inertia and inattention. He says he is locked in a long-running David vs. Goliath fight and he lets it sink in that David was, after all, just a kid.

Win comparison is win.

In July, the group staged its annual meeting. The board president, a high school student from North Carolina, was planning to fly to Washington and preside. At the last minute, he had to cancel: His mother wouldn’t let him come.

Poor Adam. 🙁

Occasionally, Koroknay-Palicz goes home to Michigan for rest and relaxation. This year he will see his parents for Christmas. They say they understand their son’s commitment and respect him.

Oh, sure, nooooow they respect him. When they never see him. Sounds like, well, all parents. :irked:

“We want him to be successful,” his father says. “We want him to get a good job that pays well, with benefits. Right now he is doing his pro-bono work.”

Do you even know what he does? From a comment you once left on One and Four, you thought he was pilot.

“Young people,” says his mother, “aren’t given their due when it comes to their worth in the world. He’s doing a great job of bringing that to life.”


And that’s the end. There you have it. Alex is awesome. NYRA is awesome. All in all, the article could have been better, as we could have seen more quotes from actual NYRA people and more in-depth about the organization, but this is good, too. I’ll give it a 9 out of 10.

That’s right, everyone. We were just a seed in the cold ground, and we’re still a struggling sprout, but some day, we’ll be one hell of an awesome plant.

13 thoughts on “Alex in Style”

  1. And from that awesome plant will grow some groovy fruit, which’ll be cut up with a gnarly knife and placed on top of a rockin’ cake, and… okay, I think I took the analogy too far. 🙁

  2. Haha. You pwned yourself! I fixed your first one. It didn’t like the quote being immediate after, so I added a space.

    As for Jackie, there’s a backstory there only a couple of people know. 😆

  3. Well, okay. It’s somewhat amusing. Back in February at Alex’s Super Bowl party, I (in jest) told Jackie that she’s in charge of Alex’s non-NYRA life, while I, the NYRA alpha female, am in charge of him as far as NYRA is concerned.

    Yet here she is appearing quoted in an article about NYRA! She’s wandering into my territory, damn it! 😆

  4. Uhm… re: your comments about his parents thinking he was a pilot … they make no sense when I follow the link. It looks to me like the poster is Alex, himself .. not one of his parents. ~sigh~ Always question what you read, bloggers have clay feet, too.

  5. The entry I linked to was an excerpt from “The Little Prince” on Alex’s blog. His dad read it and didn’t realize it was an excerpt, as you can see in one of the comments after it.

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