Above: CFJ’s Angel Palencia and Nhada Ahmed kick off the State of the Youth event in San Jose last month.
Young people are leading and taking action on a national and global scale, challenging systems of power that endanger their ability to thrive and live with dignity. In California, we have the 5th largest economy in the world but the highest adjusted poverty rate in the country, and are currently 39th in the nation for per-pupil spending in education. When we talk about the vast inequity in our communities, young people – especially young people of color – need to be centered in discussions and solutions.
We held the first ever State of the Youth two weeks ago in San Jose, co-hosted by California Assemblymember Ash Kalra, as a space to center the voices of young people. We wanted to honor the young people driving change in California and create a dialogue between youth organizers, adult allies, and elected officials.
Participants thought critically about our future as it relates to those impacted by education, immigration, housing, and those with intersectional identities. Our keynote speaker, California Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond, said it best: “The truth of the matter is that our young people are leading us in the issues of climate change, supporting our environment, and how to support young people who get caught up in the criminal justice system.”
The Superintendent is right! Young people are leading the way here in California, and at the State of the Youth we took time to honor three organizations: Jovenes Activos – a project of SOMOS Mayfair, Siren Youth for Justice, and the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSAN) for the arduous work they are doing to build the power of youth and create better realities for their people.
Throughout the night, we challenged elected officials and other adult allies to deeply listen to and build relationships with the young people present and leading our event. Everyone had an opportunity to radically dream of a new future, like GSAN youth leader Joaquin Cruz, who told us, “My radical dream for queer and trans folx is more political involvement. Like someday the president will be a trans person. We will see queer folx in the State Superintendent seat and those other positions.”
These futures are full of hope and promise for the youth and for future generations of Californians. They are possible if we lead together and see each other as the neighbors, friends, and allies we need to create real and lasting change.
We thank everyone who came out, especially our sponsors, whose support allowed us to host the event and to create this space for community conversation and imagination. In the upcoming months, we welcome you to join us and go deeper into radically dreaming a different reality for people of color and oppressed people, where we are free of white supremacy and all the systems of oppression, and start to realize them in 2020 and beyond.