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School hate crime spurred Maryland’s youngest candidate to run for office

Dhruvak Mirani is running for Howard County Democratic Central Committee
Courtesy of Dhruvak Mirani
Dhruvak Mirani is running for Howard County Democratic Central Committee

Dhruvak Mirani remembers staying up past his bedtime in elementary school to watch then-President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address under his bed cover.

Now the 17-year-old, who turns 18 years old in August, is running for a seat on Howard County’s Democratic Central Committee among 44 other candidates.

There are 20 volunteers who serve on the Democratic Central Committee statewide who help with grassroots organizing campaigns to elect Democrats to local, state and national offices.

Mirani was inspired to become politically active after his high school was inundated with racial slurs and symbols of white supremacy, even though it happened just before his freshman year.

In 2018, four white students vandalized Glenelg High School grounds by spray painting racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic slurs on the sidewalk and defacing trash cans. About 76 percent of the students at the school are white.

The principal at the time, David Burton, who is Black, was targeted by the students who claimed it was a senior prank. The students were charged with a hate crime.

Glenelg High School
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Glenelg High School

Mirani, who served on Glenelg’s student advisory committee and eventually was class president, said he wanted to combat racial inequity and shift the culture at his majority white high school, the only one in the county.

“As a student of color about to start at the school, that was really frightening for me,” Mirani said. “I did whatever I could to try to change the school environment and make it a little safer for students like me.”

During his time a Glenelg, Mirani pushed for a more inclusive curriculum that emphasized anti-racist content in English and history courses and included LGBTQ+ health education.

Mirani is now an incoming freshman at the University of Maryland at its main campus in College Park. He expects to continue political activism beyond high school.

If elected, Mirani wants to get more young people involved with local politics through high school voter registration drives, voter forums and by creating support systems for young Democratic groups. He said the committee can help teach young Democrats organizing and canvassing skills while connecting them with volunteer and internship opportunities.

“I think just even having a young person on the Central Committee, sends a really strong message to young people that they have the ability to get involved that we're not just the future of our county that we are our county right now,” he said.

There was a 14 percent increase in young voter turnout for midterm elections between 2014 and 2018 in Maryland, according to Kids Count Data Center, a voter advocacy group. About 38 percent of voters between the ages of 18 to 24, went to the polls in 2018.

Mirani also wants to promote democratic candidates that are dedicated to school safety and education equity, “all education is inherently political,” he said.

“Even though the Board of Education race doesn't have a D or R next to candidates names on the ballot, there are candidates who reflect democratic values, there are candidates who will say we're going to stand up for students who are being targeted. And there are candidates who are not going to and who are going to go out of their way to hurt students.” Mirani added.

He said that Democrats need to get involved with Board of Education races and do a better job of protecting students and push back on issues like book banning, school policing and other education issues.

Editors note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect his age and office held in high school.

Zshekinah Collier is WYPR’s 2022-2023 Report for America Corps Member, where she covers Education. @Zshekinahgf
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