A core belief of Youth Leadership Institute is that there can only be true justice and community change if those most affected are a part of decision-making. Young people must have a place “at the table” in order to make our communities places where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. It is yli’s job to run programs and trainings to make sure that young people are included at the table as often as possible so that youth voice will shape the future we are building together.
Read Brandy Ix’s story below, and consider investing in youth at the table this holiday season. Click here to contribute!
I found out about yli one day when I went to ask my history teacher for help. Stephanie, the Program Coordinator, was right there in the classroom. She asked me what I like to do, what I’m interested in. I told her that I was passionate about speaking up about immigrants. They have a hard time dealing here in this country – sometimes it’s really unfair to people. At George Washington High School, for example, there’s a lot of peer pressure to do things that other people do. They come to the US looking for a better life. Everything is new to them. Since they don’t speak English, they tend to hang out with other people who speak Spanish. People here don’t like that and attack them for no reason. They’re targeted as loud and noisy. People call them “chunts” – a derogatory term for Latinx.
When they’re attacked like that, Latinos will do anything other people say just to fit in, even if it means not being part of their own group anymore. Anyone in that position would. In my perspective, every culture is beautiful, and youth don’t have to be going through this. There could be more resources for support, but the school isn’t talking about it, so youth are pressured to blend in.
When Stephanie heard all of that, she invited me to come to the club. She told me that they were focusing on alcohol use. I’d never heard about anything like that at George Washington. It interested me because my grandpa used to be an alcoholic. A lot happened to him during his lifetime, so this subject is very powerful for me and my family. I don’t want to see my family and friends go through what he went through.
There’s a lot of pressure to drink even if you don’t want to, and it’s everywhere. Within my family, every party has to have alcohol. It could be a kid’s birthday party and there’s alcohol. We see it and we assume that when we’re older, we’ll just accept it. We’ll be drinking, too. It’s also a big issue at our school. Our teachers don’t realize that kids can be anywhere, even in class, and can be consuming with no one realizing it.
So, we decided to create the Bay Area Youth Voice website to educate adults about the role alcohol plays for youth. Each classmate created a Canva graphic that explained what alcoholism is to us. It was pretty cool to see everyone put their thoughts on a slide – each one of us has a different point of view of alcohol. It was a mix between opinions and information. But when we connected them all together, it was very powerful and impactful. We all talked about peer pressure in different ways, and all agreed that youth have a very powerful voice.
With Stephanie’s help, I also wrote a letter talking about how I felt about the school – the problems I’ve been seeing and how youth are being affected by them. My plan is to collect some signatures from my friends and send it to the administration. And I recently created a club at my school to talk about minorities and how we can support each other, especially during these times.
I think that this work is really important – it’s really important to have different perspectives, not just one. Adults see one side of things. Our history books, for example, only teach one side of the story. I’ve never seen a quote from a Native American, or another group that is not white. But youth can now educate themselves from all kinds of different sources, through social media. As times are changing, we’re learning about what is right and wrong. And because San Francisco is such a diverse city, we have the opportunity to inspire other places when we stand up.
Unfortunately, adults often underestimate youth and what we have to say. They think that we’re too young to know what we’re saying. I see this a lot on social media: youth speaking up, getting on Instagram Live, speaking about what they feel is right. But there are a lot of adults judging, even attacking youth by posting mean comments, saying that youth don’t know what we’re saying, that we should “educate ourselves.” I know that not everyone will agree with you, but the comments can be really hurtful. For me, I feel safe in my family and friend group. But once you step outside of that, you don’t know who is going to criticize you. It can be scary, as youth, to put your voice out there.
Because of this, it’s an inspiration to me to see that youth are still speaking up on what they feel passionate about. I think it’s important for youth to understand that their voices matter and that they need to stand up for their communities. Everyone is equal and everyone has the right to say what they want to say. In my vision for a better world, we wouldn’t hurt each other so much, even though we might not agree.