YLI Alumna Iridian begins career as health advocate for autistic youth

yli is My Story

“YLI showed me what I want to do with my life. Anything social justice driven, that’s where I want to be. I see social justice as making a change, reforming the system, and finding ways to still provide equity for people who don’t have the same resources and privileges as those who do.” – Iridian, YLI Alumna

Iridian is no stranger to the intersections between social justice and health equity.

“After YLI, I care more about my community. I understand the importance of analyzing systemic problems that lead to unhealthy behaviors like smoking. I started smoking when I was 14. I confessed to a YLI program coordinator because I felt so guilty that I was in a campaign and I smoked. They let me know, “No, it’s not your fault. These companies want you to smoke. They target you as a young person of color. This isn’t your fault.” I didn’t understand at first, but now, when I look at children smoking, I realize it’s true. There’s a reason why cigarettes are at the front of the store. There’s a reason why they look so enticing, why the packages are so colorful, why there’s smoking in PG movies. YLI helped me understand the connection between larger systems and how that impacts my family, my community, and me.”

After a 7-year involvement with YLI, “24/7 critical thinking” is the top skill that Iridian claims she developed through YLI. She further explains that critical thinking is now always in her analysis, “and not even when I need to but when I look at a store, a system, a person, anything. Nothing is on the surface anymore. I understand there’s depth to everything. YLI has made me a conscious individual to all inequities.”

Public speaking is another area where Iridian says YLI helped her grow. She says, “I still have a hard time with public speaking, but I don’t know how I would be if I never joined YLI.” Iridian names that public speaking has been an empowering experience for her. Iridian adds, “I know that I’m worth it. I can speak to a public official. adds, “It doesn’t matter if I’m a person of color, a Latina, if I’m young, anything. I’m worth speaking to a person in power.”

As a young adult seeking to shape a promising career, the research and data analysis experience Iridian gathered at YLI gave her an upper edge in the job search. “I was never exposed to real life research in school,” Iridian says. “In high school, you get assignments and research projects but it’s all generic. At the age of 16, I saw that my work with YLI where was spending my time was actually making a change in the community. This made me realize, Wow, I did that?!”

These skills that Iridian developed consistently impact her outside of the community change work with YLI. “The skills and consciousness I’ve developed with YLI help me when I’m speaking in class, when I’m writing my papers. I have a completely different mindset from people around me. What YLI taught me helped me get involved in my school and understand the importance of having a voice on campus and out of campus.“

Knowing the importance of having a voice is precisely what propelled Iridian to take leadership roles, particularly with the Latin American Student Organization at Skyline College (LASO). She says, “What I learned with YLI led me to join LASO and to become Secretary. In that role, keeping track of running everything, creating an agenda, organizing and facilitating a meeting, that all came from YLI. Without YLI, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of that. I joined LASO because we try to dismantle any stigma or prejudice against Latin American communities, and that’s aligned with social justice.“

The social justice awareness that Iridian received from YLI is what inspired her to take a central role to assure the sustainability of LASO. With Iridian’s leadership, LASO now has a large membership, bylaws, and a whole executive team. She says, “I can honestly say that I’ve made a change on campus… I’ve brought a lot of awareness to actual issues going on, like migrant worker conditions, Latina women who are not talked about, and the Afro-Latino community. People are very interested in this material; it’s not something they are taught in class.”

Iridian recently ran for Senator at Skyline College and won. 

During her time as youth leader with YLI, Iridian was involved in spearheading the following campaigns:

  • Smoke-Free Hollywood Campaign, ­­­­­­part of an international movement to ban smoking in movies rated G, PG, and PG-13;
  • BOOF (Betting On Our Future), an awareness campaign that exposed the issue of youth problem gambling. The
  • The Sugar Sweet and Beverage Tax, a campaign committed to increasing access to healthy foods and healthy beverages, specifically focusing on sugar sweet beverages; group is now called PAID (Peninsula Advocates Investigating Debt Traps);
  • The Common Core Campaign, an advocacy initiative over educational standards being implemented in the nation.

As a Chicana daughter of immigrants, Iridian is a first-generation college student planning to transfer to a 4-year university in the Bay Area.

“Youth leadership means empowering others to have a voice alongside yours. I don’t necessarily see a leader as the top person. Leaders are within the people. They encourage people to speak out and to assist others. It means that you are there to serve rather than to be served. That could be your community, your group, or your family. Leadership can be shared.” Iridian, YLI Alumna