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20 Years of Summer Youth Leadership Academy!

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Cue the air horns! Sound the drums! From the humble roots of backyard BBQs, neighborhood canvassing, and word of mouth recruitment in our Bay Area regions, the CFJ Summer Youth Leadership Academy is now in four cities across California. On this 20th anniversary year, we celebrated with our largest SYLA class ever with 69 students!!

We’ll be celebrating this special yearbook issue throughout the fall but to kick things off we’re doing a quick flashback to one of our OG youth leaders and member of the very first SYLA class, Liz Gonzalez!


“There is so much space when you belong to a movement.”

Liz Gonzalez, CFJ Alum and member of the very first SYLA class in 2001

For Liz, joining CFJ was as simple as walking down the street. Literally! Volunteer sessions for ballot propositions took place a few blocks away from her family home, and when it came time to canvass, Liz proudly remembers flyering and talking to community members outside the local grocery store. Under the leadership and mentorship of then-Executive Director Abdi Soltani, Liz felt inspired to inspire change in her own neighborhood.

“I loved the idea of taking care of my home and my community, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do and still do today!”

Being part of SYLA was an incredible experience for Liz because it was the very first class of SYLA. To kick off this flagship program, CFJ convened youth from all over CA and flew them to Los Angeles for a multi-day workshop.

“It was just two of us flying from San Jose, we had no idea what to expect. Meeting everyone though was very powerful because it was the first space any of us had to talk about systemic oppression and center our experience in all of it.”

This groundbreaking experience signaled the critical value of providing space for our youth.

Fast forward 20 years, and Liz is still up and at it with the community organizing. She leads narrative change work at Silicon Valley De-Bug, which is a story-telling, community organizing, and advocacy organization based in San Jose, CA.

“In our space, everyone’s voice is valid and accepted. We share stories for transformation, and that’s why we bring everyone with us to every meeting, protest, and legislative session. The more stories told, the more change will happen.”

Recent wins at De-Bug include coalition-led advocacy to remove police officers from schools for at least one year as well as the continued popularity of De-Bug’s online publications.

This is the power of story, thank you Liz! 🙏

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