When Youth Rise

As a network committed to supporting the power and leadership of youth organizers, YO! Cali understands the agency that comes from sharing and learning from each other’s stories. Our dynamic network is comprised of young folks from all across California, who each have specific visions for what is possible in our state, if we take the voices of young people seriously. 

When Youth Rise is a reminder of the need for society to value the vision and interests of all young people. It is a proclamation that change is possible, when we include young people in the process. 

To make this project possible, we interviewed several young people who are each a part of YO! California network organizations and asked about their origins in organizing, significant campaigns that have impacted their lives, and encouraged them to imagine a world where youth were given the chance to lead!

How did you join your organization and why did you stay involved?

Maria Velez, InnerCity Struggle, Los Angeles, age 18

"For me it was the issue of the low investment in my community that got me interested in the work with InnerCity Struggle. I stayed involved because I knew that the program was going to help me build my leadership skills and because I wanted to continue being part of that change." 


David Celedon, Resilience Orange County, Santa Ana, age 20

“I joined my first organization, the Youth Empowerment Network, I was in 5th grade. I was just a little kid. I saw my mom and my sister, they would go to these meetings. One day I was like, I’ll join a meeting and see what it’s about. And I did and I liked it and I stayed from 5th grade to 6th grade to 7th grade to 8th grade and on till now. I’ve been there and one of my first members was Dulce of Resilience Orange County, who’s there for me all the time. I met many people there who I really love and who became a family.”



Marlon Gonzalez, RYSE Center, Richmond

“The first time I heard about RYSE was through my older brother and sister. They've been at RYSE since the beginning and I always wanted to go and it took me a while to sign up but I did it. I joined in 2018 and signed up for a RYOT [Richmond Youth Organizing Team] internship. At first I was just winging it and wasn't sure about all the topics we were talking about, but once we started talking about our community and what I can do to help and improve it is when I started learning about gentrification, what's happening in my community, basically things I had never paid attention to.”



What campaign have you felt most proud of and how has that campaign helped to advance key issues in the Young People’s Agenda?

Omar Vasquez, Resilience Orange County, Santa Ana, age 17

“I’ve been in a lot of campaigns. Recently I’ve been in the phone banking. It was something because people didn’t want to speak. I really liked it because it was a new experience for me. You didn’t get a response sometimes or an answer. And I think once we started doing it at schools it helped the youth who don’t have opportunities to go out and come to places like LHA [Latino Health Access] because they don’t have transportation. It helps those youth who are going through a bad time and they get involved with community through school and that’s how it brings about change for them.”


Jahiem Jones, RYSE Center, Richmond

“The Kids First Richmond Initiative is one that makes me truly proud of me, my coworkers and team, and my community. The campaign not only demanded the city to allocate money to youth ages 0–24, but also is erasing Richmond’s reputation and giving community non-profits such as RYSE more resources for young folks. The funds that youth will be provided can also benefit the work of YO! Cali. With the funds and platforms that RYSE and YO! Cali establish, we can build more pipelines and build better community alongside with retreats or conferences centered around not just youth but families, and community members.”


Emily Wong, Chinese Progressive Association, San Francisco, age 17

“The campaign we recently just won, called Our Healing In Our Hands. It’s a mental health campaign to help SFUSD give the mental health resources students haven’t been receiving. Especially for people of color. For Asian students who teachers don’t think are at risk, and Middle Eastern and Black students, because teachers use punitive measures to punish them. This campaign will help SFUSD help students with their mental health. And provide resources, creative peer coaching and counseling where students will train to help other students, help equip the youth with the tools to help each other in tough conversations, and really listen to one another and feel heard. Through that we can guide them through the process to professional help.”



What might the world look and feel like if young people were encouraged to lead in all aspects of our society?

Mia Collins, Resilience Orange County, Santa Ana, age 18 

“If youth led all aspects of society it would look like youth of all backgrounds being able to go to whatever college they want to. They wouldn’t have to be afraid of immigration status, race, if they have enough money, if they don’t have a community there. They could just go wherever they want to and be happy there.”


Kyndekke Johnson, SF Rising, San Francisco, age 21

“I think hanging out with the younger kids who are 14 and 15, I see how their creativity isn’t inhibited. They’re excited to talk about new ideas. When we talk about economic justice, I haven't had to pay bills. In terms of facing the police, kids have that in their schools. With creativity and a keen innocence youth can lead us to a purely love-based society. Not leading because they want money or fame, but to collectivlely lift each other up. Economic justice is being world-minded and helping as many people as possible. Our youth will lead with that.”


Eric Fidel Zuniga, Fathers and Families of San Joaquin, Stockton, age 18

“If the world was led by youth it would look very bright, because the youth are coming from many generations that made trauma from living in the struggles. And getting the knowledge from the youth will inspire the parents and the elders on what they have done and what we are trying to fix.”


Justin Carson, SF Rising, San Francisco, age 20 

“Honestly it would be more bold, because as you age, certain situations shape and mold you to restraining yourself. But since we don’t have that experience, whether it’s in fashion or leading politically, we would be bold with it.”