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It’s taken me a little bit to bask in the passing of Measure W in San Mateo County. Bear with me with my long reflection! This is a half-cent sales tax that will fund county-only transportation projects. It will generate $80M per year or $2.4B over the course of 30 years. This is where I poured a very significant amount of energy while working in San Mateo County.

At YLI, we started working with youth leaders in January 2016 (thanks to Get Healthy San Mateo County), did hardcore community participatory research with the brilliant support of Urban Habitat (Shout out to Bob!), and ran a comparative study between what transportation access looked like in an urban versus rural environment. We got in front of SamTrans to present our findings and recommendations and helped to craft the Youth Mobility Plan, which aims to increase youth ridership and affordability for youth throughout the years.

The results of our research were simple: youth, seniors, and other transit-dependent folks need more affordable, reliable, and accessible public transit. We cannot forget about them. Our low-income families, students, and seniors deserve the opportunity to move in the heart of Silicon Valley.

We needed people power. Throughout the year, previous YLI Program Coordinator Zaki Hussein and I met with over 40 different partners including CBOs and local decision makers, and worked with 30+ amazing youth, to get people sparked on what transportation equity looked like. We were scheduled to have a big event on Wednesday, November 9th, 2016. Ya’ll remember that day? TRUMP GOT ELECTED PRESIDENT. It was a pretty heavy day, but yo, partners showed up. We had a room full of people who cared about everything DJT didn’t. It was powerful and fueled the work that was about to happen in the next two years.

So then we thought, where do we take this work? Youth are telling us transportation is needed everywhere, local decision-makers are telling us they got their hands tied because it’s a regional issue. In 2017, gridlock was real on highways 101, 92, and 280, and the housing crisis was intimately tied to our work. Two of our own youth were displaced to Alameda County in the middle of their school year because they could not afford to live in San Mateo County. It was too much to ask for a youth to commute back and forth. But the youth did it anyway until the end of the school year.

So at this point, it was clear we needed a collective effort. Our Senior Program Director, Fahad Qurashi spearheaded the brilliant opportunity to build a countywide, multi-generational transportation coalition in San Mateo County (thanks Silicon Valley Community Foundation). Fahad pointed at me to lead it. I was like, “Fahad, um that’s a lot, something that’s never been done, and I’m the lucky one to make that happen?” His answer: “I believe in you, you got this.”

On Valentine’s Day 2017, we had our first Transportation Equity Allied Movement Coalition (TEAMC) meeting. The room was full of transit policy experts, community residents, direct service workers, labor reps, school district reps, and many other sectors. In the first six months, we came up with transportation principles to guide our work, which was signed by almost 30 orgs. These principles became the blueprint for Measure W’s principles!

“I’m so honored to have shared space in so many prep meetings...to make sure diverse voices were taken into account in the assessment period, in coming up with our values, planning the expenditure plan around the needs of communities, and, above all, in encouraging significant community engagement and public participation in the process.”
Montzerrat Bedolla, Program Manager

TEAMC merged our power with our friends from Transform, Menlo Spark, Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, Friends of Caltrain, and Sustainable San Mateo County, among others. We had power mapping meetings, monthly coalition meetings, trainings. We realized that this was the first time that an organized effort on behalf of the people who cared about transportation was bubbling.

The bigger question for me was, is this REALLY happening? 2017 was big for our youth leaders, too. They ran a concurrent countywide research effort to make sure youth voice was included in the plan. It was such valuable work. They highlighted and made it clear through evidence-based research that if more public transit options were available traffic congestion would decrease, the environment would benefit, and communities would overall be healthier. That definitely set the tone for 2018.

In 2018, TEAMC decided to take on this opportunity to work in partnership with SamTrans to create a ballot measure that would be on the 2018 November ballot to generate revenues for transportation projects. And SamTrans hired a dedicated staff member, which is pretty awesome — you don’t see this a lot in other transit districts, or systems. The role of this staff person was to implement one of the plan’s many projects, the Youth Ambassador Program. This was only an idea in 2016!  

What I am about to share is what I LOVED ABOUT TEAMC. First, we wrestled with the fact that it was a regressive sales tax. Low-income families hurt the most when regressive taxes are implemented. Why would we go for that?

However, IF this tax didn’t pass, low-income people also have the most to lose. People who rely on the bus to get to school, work, grocery stores, and home hurt the most. 75% of SamTrans ridership are people of color and the average yearly income of riders is $40k. The median income in San Mateo County is what? $120k/year now? Low-income folks are already paying the price of decades of disinvestment in public transit and highway expansions that never benefited them. We knew we couldn’t correct that with just a ballot measure, or the potential of $2.4B over 30 years. But we were going to try.

February to May 2018 were specially hard months. TEAMC collected 1000+ community resident surveys, did 5 Spanish/English community forums that brought together over 200 residents, and did so much more to make sure our monolingual speakers and families got a chance to weigh in during the budget period of the process. Our survey results were clear, people wanted more public transportation options. We were regulars at all decision maker meetings as well, and it was truly a beautiful thing to show up as a coalition to decision-making meetings. We definitely put the TEAM in TEAMC.

The latter half of 2018 was campaign mode. I moved to SoCal July 2018. Eduardo Gonzalez and Fahad Qurashi, thank you for holding down TEAMC during this time, for activating our UNLIKELY voters, and making sure everyone and anyone voted for Measure W. When we talk about the “slim margin” I would like to give that credit to folks on the ground who were hustling to make sure that civic engagement was high during these elections.

AND IT WORKED.

This was my first time working on a countywide project like this, with so much potential, and so much to lose as well. There are so many steps y’all! Chris Lepe, Adina Levin, Bob, Emma, Diane, and many more partners. YOU ALL HOLD IT DOWN. I’m so honored to have shared space in so many prep meetings at Starbucks and that pizza place across from Samtrans to make sure diverse voices were taken into account in the assessment period, in coming up with our values, planning the expenditure plan around the needs of communities, and, above all, in encouraging significant community engagement and public participation in the process.

SamTrans did a good job through all their community meetings and survey outreach. Shout out to them, too! But, TEAMC decided to do more. Y’all, I went home so late so many weeks and woke up so early everyday because the hours in the day were not enough to ensure that community residents, experts in their communities, knew about the decisions that were about to change the course of their lives.

Like I said, our communities have so much to lose, but now they have so much to gain. Sure 35% of the spending plan IS going to highways, but 65% is going to public/active transportation. You bet we fought hard for this. This plan prioritizes people over cars. It changed the way we think about transportation in San Mateo County. It shows commitment from decision-makers to transform the future of transportation. It means that for the next 30 years, our 14-18 year olds will have a chance to see this transformation. This after all, was started by them, and is for them.

AND most importantly, the work is not done! It never is. Transportation equity does not have an expiration date. Good luck! I miss you all, but I know that this is the kind of work that is so evergreen that it will go on without me. I love that.

Like my good friend Bob Allen once said, “Transportation is like oxygen. You don’t notice it until it’s gone.” I learned so much about what it looks like to lead a policy with values and principles, to put the needs of under and misrepresented communities first, to move the needle on equity in ways we did not imagine in 2016, and most importantly, I learned what TEAMwork looks like. All the good, long days, honestly, learning on the SPOT but carrying the stories of the youth I worked with everyday made it possible for a youth-serving organization to get into the transportation equity conversation. Who would have thought?

Got a lot of love for all the community partners, coalition members, San Mateo County staff, and youth leaders. You all literally make San Mateo County move for you. <3

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After weeks of counting votes for an unprecedented midterm election turnout, it appears that San Mateo’s transportation tax, Measure W, has passed by a razor-thin margin. The measure will generate $80 million per year in sales tax revenue for the next 30 years to improve public transit, create safer bike and pedestrian routes, reduce traffic, repair roads and address other urgent community needs.

This is an enormous victory for the people of San Mateo. And young people and their TEAMC coalition made sure that this victory was possible.

Hundreds of thousands of people rely on San Mateo’s roads and transit systems to get to work, to school, to stores and services, and back home to family. Drawing heavily on community input, the measure will improve environmentally sustainable transportation options in San Mateo County for years to come — especially for those who need it most.

A full 50% of the funds will go to SamTrans, Caltrain, paratransit and other mobility services to better serve low-income communities and communities of color, youth, seniors, people with disabilities, and transit-dependent populations throughout the County. The measure includes:

  • Increasing frequencies on some of SamTrans’ core routes and expanded hours of service during mornings, evenings and weekends
  • Improving first- and last-mile connections between job centers and transit hubs
  • Integrating technology-based solutions that improve efficiency, convenience, access to information and overall rider experience (like WiFi)

Measure W reflects a truly grassroots effort, sourcing key input for the spending plan directly from communities that rely on public transportation. “This measure is the result of a process everyone in San Mateo County can be proud of,” said Fahad Qurashi, YLI’s Senior Program Director. “Our communities raised their voices to share their needs and concerns, and the measure reflects that input. This is a huge step forward for transportation in San Mateo County, and we feel the process can serve as a model for other jurisdictions.” Qurashi played a key role in the year-long collaborative effort between SamTrans and the Transportation Equity Allied Movement Coalition (TEAMC), a coalition of 28 organizations working to amplify the voices of San Mateo’s most vulnerable residents.

Together, TEAMC and SamTrans collected thousands of surveys and hosted community meetings with constituencies throughout the county to help craft the expenditure plan. TEAMC organizers also supported in getting out the vote, phone banking, canvassing at farmers’ markets and Caltrain stations, and campaigning on social media. Over 100 volunteers — including many of our youth leaders — reached tens of thousands of voters in the weeks leading up to the election. These efforts to get out the vote were critical: the Measure, which needed a 2/3 majority, passed by a mere fraction of a percentage point.

Many of our youth were motivated by their personal experiences: “I used to take public transit to work every day,” said Alma Sanchez. “The bus was always full, sometimes they would come too early, and I’d miss them — I’d have to wait 2 hours, until at 8pm, to get on the bus home. There’d always be a fight to get on the bus. There aren’t any shade structures — on rainy days, people would have to wait in the rain.” Cendy Saravia is excited about what’s to come with the passage of Measure W: “It might encourage people like me to actually take the bus. Right now, I’d rather walk than wait for a crowded bus. Having that option will be so much better.”

In addition to improvements in the bus system, the measure includes Caltrain upgrades and improvements to better connect the County to the rest of the region: “We are very pleased to see the strong focus in this measure on transit and active transportation,” said Adina Levin, Executive Director of Friends of Caltrain. “And, in a helpful and innovative move, roadway spending can be used for programs to move more people in fewer cars,” said Levin.

For people who bike and walk, funding will be allocated to fill in the gaps and update facilities for bicycle and pedestrian pathways. “I’m thankful that so much of our San Mateo County community agrees on the need for investing in the transportation system that we all depend on. Investing in transit will make our regional circulation smoother and encourage more people to use alternative modes of transportation — like bikes! — so people can have options to get around with less traffic and stress,” said Emma Schlaes of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. Sustainable transportation improvements represent at least two-thirds of the funding in the measure.

Finally, the measure includes strong core principles, an independent oversight committee, and a strategic planning process that prioritizes community input to guide spending moving forward..

Looking ahead, TEAMC will be following the strategic planning process and creation of the independent oversight committee to ensure that the full potential of Measure W is realized. “We’re excited to continue partnering with SamTrans and other transit decision-making entities to ensure that community needs and values guide Measure W’s investments moving forward,” said Qurashi.

The win was covered by The SM Daily Journal.

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The work of YLI Fresno Boys and Men of Color (BMoC) program is no stranger to leading. From making parks a city-wide conversation, to bringing restorative justice to Fresno Unified, to getting a Fresno City Youth Commission, this group of young men have led the way in Fresno.

Now they’re leading the way in another way: as a winner of The Obama Foundation’s first-ever Seed Community grant.

Last Thursday, the Obama Foundation announced the winners of the My Brother’s Keeper Challenge Competition and Youth Leadership Institute – Fresno Boys and Men of Color was one of 19 community organizations across the nation to receive funding and support.

The programs all focus on reducing violence and establishing opportunities for young men and boys of color in the 19 communities.

My Brother’s Keeper Alliance at the Obama Foundation - YouTube

In addition to a Seed Community grant of $50,000, the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Alliance will provide technical assistance aimed at developing infrastructure to sustain future work.

For Efrain Botello, who has been a part of BMoC for four years, this award affirms all the work. “It is a really good feeling that people acknowledge our work and want to contribute. It’s a blessing,” said Botello.

“Boys & Men of Color supports young people in a way that makes them feel important. We would like to connect more young people to our group who want to make a difference in their community.”
Efrain Botello

“We are really pleased and look forward to continue working to make sure that Fresno is a place where everyone has a chance to thrive, especially our young men of color,” said Sher Moua, project manager of BMoC.

Representatives from BMoC plan to attend the MBK Alliance’s first-ever national summit, MBK Rising!, which will bring together community organizations, youth of color, and elected officials in February 2019. The Oakland, CA event will coincide with the fifth anniversary of the launch of former President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

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Youth Vote San Mateo - YouTube

Young people have powerful insights on what is going on in their communities — and they are fearless in defying the status quo to push for change. However, they often miss out on a key opportunity to make their voices heard: voting. In Daly City, for example, only 14% of youth turned out at the June elections.

Youth Organizing San Mateo County has been working tirelessly this election cycle to change these statistics.

Over the last month, they launched an aggressive educational campaign, blasting content including the above slick instructional video, produced with the help of YLI youth media program VoiceWaves, on social media platforms to get youth registered and out to the polls.

On Thursday, October 12th, in partnership with teachers at Westmoor High School, they organized the Daly City Candidates Forum for Youth. The weeks and months leading up to elections are crammed with such forums; almost none target youth or are even youth-friendly. This means that youth have little opportunity to learn about local issues and candidates, and that candidates fail to hear directly from youth about the issues most important to them.

Attended by over 75 youth ages 16-25, the Forum launched with a presentation by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, which shared criticaldetails to help young people navigate the voting process, including:

  • Their right to pre-register at 16, which primes youth to think about civic engagement at an earlier age and ensures that they start receiving ballots as soon as they turn 18
  • New rules on the voting process related to the Voters’ Choice Act in San Mateo County
  • Translation services
  • Their right to claim two paid hours from their employers to go to the polls

The presentation was followed by a panel, where candidates for City Council shared their platforms and answered questions from the audience. Questions revolved around:

  • Resources for mental health services
  • Rent control, affordable housing, and the rapid displacement of low-income communities
  • Increasing the minimum  wage and other economic opportunities for working class families

Voter registration tables encouraged youth to register onsite, and the program wrapped with a raffle and performances from Westmoor High School dance groups, Ace Club, Polynesian Club, and GQ Specialist.

*Thanks to City Council Candidate Rod Daus-Magbual, Westmoor High School, and Holly Lim for their support in organizing the Forum; Westmoor High’s Ace Club, Polynesian Club, GQ Specialist for their stunning performances; and to Ruby Ibarra for donating concert tickets!

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Youth voice in California just got LOUDER.

Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) is announcing the acquisition of YouthWire, a youth media organization that produces hyper-local news content in underserved communities. YouthWire is the first statewide collaboration of youth reporters anywhere in the country.

The unanimous board decision follows months of work by both organizations, our respective boards, staff, youth and community partners to discern the best path forward to support the inclusion of youth voice in every level of civic discourse.

As of October 1, 2018, YLI will absorb the four current YouthWire offices and five programs, resulting in 77 programs that serve over 2,000 young people a week. The move reiterates our commitment to the Central Valley with merged programming in Fresno and Merced, allows for the growth of youth media into our Bay Area offices of Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo and expands YLI’s footprint to include the Southern California sites of Long Beach and the Eastern Coachella Valley.

“Welcoming YouthWire to Youth Leadership Institute is our commitment to inclusive, shared leadership. There is more that we can do together than either can do apart.  As we have watched youth participate in both of our programs, we saw an opportunity to expand leadership and voice for young people and communities across California.” said Jon Marker, YLI Chief Executive Officer.

YouthWire is deeply aligned with YLI’s core values of social justice, community, innovation, and inclusion. Like YLI’s youth leaders, YouthWire’s youth reporters work on the issues that matter most to young people and their communities. And leading organizations are celebrating them: among the 12 youth leaders chosen from across the state to receive The California Endowment’s inaugural youth awards were YLI’s Guadalupe Reyes Calderon and YouthWire’s Danyeal Escobar.

“YouthWire is proud to be joining Youth Leadership Institute, which has a legacy of deep support for young people, a commitment to their communities, and a belief that youth voice is needed to overcome our most pressing challenges,” said Tim Haydock, YouthWire Executive Director.

The move adds storytelling and media advocacy to YLI’s current leadership programming, amplifying youth voice in powerful new ways. Alongside campaigns to reduce the number of liquor stores in low-income neighborhoods of color, county and city youth commissions, and leadership and advocacy groups for youth of color, YLI will have dedicated youth media programs that deliver regular youth-led content via web, print, and multimedia publications.

“We understand and deeply believe that our work is in uplifting and centering the voices of young people most impacted by inequities in their communities. Including youth media programming in our organization is a continued investment in youth voice and leadership to create change. Together we will learn alongside young people what it means to be adult allies in this work, what it means to work for justice, and what it means to center the voices of young people in all of our regions,” said Patty Barahona, YLI Chief People Officer.

At the heart of everything we do is a deep belief that young people must be a part of the solution, that the present moment requires young people, especially young people of color, to raise their voices in every aspect of public life and leadership. This organizational move allows us to double down on our commitment to youth voice and inclusion.

All of this growth is a result of 27 years of supporting youth leadership in our communities and across the nation. We couldn’t be more proud to announce these new opportunities as we continue to be a part of the movement that young people are building in, and with, our communities, our state, and our world.

You can be a part of this movement, too. Join us for the Raise Your Voices Gala on November 15, 2018 to celebrate all that young people have accomplished in our programs and help us welcome in the next chapter of YLI, where youth voice drives change so that all communities thrive.

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Cultura, Organizing, Resistance and Action (CORA), Merced’s first-ever youth leadership academy was held last month over the course of two weekends. A diverse group of 12 young people — including several system-impacted and foster youth — attended from schools in the towns of Merced and Atwater. The majority had never participated in this kind of program, whose topics included the foundations of social justice; a history of social movements like Black Lives Matter, the Black Panthers, the Chicano Movement, and how they connect to the present moment; organizing and advocacy basics; and leadership development.

Key among the objectives was to help participants articulate the issues that they have been experiencing in their communities — and to begin envisioning a campaign for community change.

One youth participant, Citlali Haro, a 17-year old student at Atwater High School, shared how she came to be involved in CORA — and where her leadership work is taking her next.

My dad is really into politics. My sister, too. She helped me realize some things about oppression, about how differently immigrant families are treated, about their struggles. Both of my parent are immigrants from Juchipilas, Zacatecas, Mexico  — my grandparents still live there. My dad is a trucker and my mom takes care of the family.

It took awhile for me to find the revolution inside me. I began finding out about a lot of things that weren’t right. The issues faced by migrant families, police brutality. I believe that everyone is equal, and my goal is to treat everyone equally, not by the color of your skin.

Then March for our Lives happened, and I decided it was time to stick up for what I believe in. In my school, there had been 5 lockdowns in first year, tons of threats. It was scary. School is supposed to be a safe place. During the rally, Claudia (YLI Merced’s Program Coordinator) saw me standing there. She walked up to me and started telling me about Girls & Women of Color. I decided to check it out, and connected with a lot of women who have different problems — we talked about our struggles, what we’ve been through. We quickly became a family, and began figuring out what it is we wanted to work on.

We started going to school board meetings and became very involved in the fight against sexual harassment in the school district. The result was that an official protocol for sexual harassment was mailed out to all students and families in the district. We really accomplished something.

When I heard about CORA, I felt like it was a way to take my leadership a step further. It was a really great experience. I learned new things about different types of oppression, and how to become an activist. My favorite activity was the Privilege Walk, where players are asked to take a step forward for each privilege they experience. It was eye-opening about the hard times young people experience, and how they STILL show up to do the work. That was the biggest lesson for me: No matter where you stand, you can always make a difference. It doesn’t matter about your background — it matters what you do now.

By the end of the program, we came up with a goal — we decided that what our community needs is a center where kids can go. In my town, you have to pay to be in sports, so not a lot of people have this opportunity. We need somewhere where people can go if they want to, so we started looking at possible ways to get the money. At the same time, over-policing is a huge problem in the county — it’s not necessary to have so many police officers. We decided we’d work on redirecting funds from the police to a center that would help to keep kids active.

I left the academy feeling a strong attachment to everyone who had participated. For me, leadership is about motivating people to fight for what they believe in, if there are a lot of people telling them that they can’t. To be the voice for the ones that don’t have one.

On August 9th, the group met again to discuss their campaign. They decided on a name for their advocacy group, Merced Youth Neighborhood Enhancement (MYNE), and are planning to meet monthly to build their campaign to redistribute funds from law enforcement to youth activities and safe spaces. Stay tuned!

CORA would not have been possible without the support of our community partners: Merced Building Healthy Communities, Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, J&R Tacos, Soldavi Realty, Merced Youth Connect — thank you!

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