In their own words: Members of the National Council of Young Leaders Discuss their Recommendations for Public Action


Members of the National Council of Young Leaders meet with Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education
 

Created in July 2012 in response to a recommendation from the White House Council on Community Solutions, the National Council of Young Leaders is tasked with informing policymakers, business leaders and funders about the issues faced by America’s young people. The 14 founding council members, ranging in age from 18 to 34, come from diverse upbringings in urban and rural low-income communities across the nation. They represent our country’s Opportunity Youth: the 6.7 million young Americans who are neither in school nor working, but who pose enormous potential for our economy and our future if they are provided the opportunity to get on track and get ahead. Though each council member has overcome different kinds of obstacles, they all share in common their participation in transformative youth programs that helped them become the successful young adults they are today.

In the fall of 2012, the Council released its first publication - Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America. The report outlines specific actions that could help Opportunity Youth and their communities. One of highlights of the publication is the Council’s Six Recommendations for Immediate Public Action, which are as follows:

1) Expand effective comprehensive programs
2) Expand National Service
3) Expand Private Internships
4) Increase All Forms of Mentoring
5) Protect and Expand Pathways to Higher Education
6) Reform the Criminal Justice System

We wanted to hear the Council Members describe in their own words why these specific Recommendations are important to them and important to the success of America’s young people.

 


 
Read why Recommendation #4 - Increase All Forms of Mentoring - is important to Council Member Francisco Garcia 
Read why Recommendation #5 - Protect and Expand Pathways to Higher Education - is important to Council Member Adam Strong 
Read why Recommendation #3 - Expand Private Internships - is important to Council Member Philan Tree
Read why Recommendation #6 - Reform the Criminal Justice System - is important to Council Member Christopher Prado
Read why Recommendation #4 - Increase All Forms of Mentoring - is important to Council Member Ramean Clowney
Read why Recommendation #4 - Increase All Forms of Mentoring - is important to Council Member Shawnice Jackson
   
   
   
   
   

 

The National Council of Young Leaders: On the Need to Increase Mentoring


National Council of Young Leaders banner, painted by council member Francisco Garcia
 

Created in July 2012 in response to a recommendation from the White House Council on Community Solutions, the National Council of Young Leaders is tasked with informing policymakers, business leaders and funders about the issues faced by America’s young people. The 14 founding council members, ranging in age from 18 to 34, come from diverse upbringings in urban and rural low-income communities across the nation. They represent our country’s Opportunity Youth: the 6.7 million young Americans who are neither in school nor working, but who pose enormous potential for our economy and our future if they are provided the opportunity to get on track and get ahead. Though each council member has overcome different kinds of obstacles, they all share in common their participation in transformative youth programs that helped them become the successful young adults they are today.

In the fall of 2012, the Council released its first publication - Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America. The report outlines specific actions that could help Opportunity Youth and their communities. One of highlights of the publication is the Council’s Six Recommendations for Immediate Public Action: 1) Expand effective comprehensive programs; 2) Expand National Service; 3) Expand Private Internships; 4) Increase All Forms of Mentoring; 5) Protect and Expand Pathways to Higher Education; and 6) Reform the Criminal Justice System.

We wanted to hear the Council Members describe in their own words why these specific Recommendations are important to them and important to the success of America’s young people. Below, find out why council member Francisco Garcia is passionate about Recommendation #4...

Increase All Forms of Mentoring:
"Expand mentoring programs and elevate both formal and informal mentoring as a core component for all programs serving opportunity youth. Young people need caring individual mentors to give us confidence, respect, and support in planning and working toward a productive future. We need mentors both from a similar background who have overcome familiar obstacles, and mentors from different backgrounds who can open whole new horizons."
[Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America, p. 8]


(Parts of Francisco's bio and his photo are from the YouthBuild website)

Francisco Garcia is a professional public artist and muralist based in Arizona and California. He is a student at Rio Hondo College and Art Center College of Design in California.

Francisco grew up in a Mexican immigrant community in Los Angeles. His family moved to Phoenix, AZ when he was 16 years old so they could escape the neighborhood gang activity and have a better opportunity to buy a house and start a business.

“When I got to Arizona I started hanging out with people who were doing breakdancing and graffiti and rapping. It was really positive, but you do graffiti in the street. Graffiti is very dynamic. It has pros and cons. Illegal graffiti has more cons than pros, so that’s when I got into trouble,” said Francisco. “I got jumped by another graffiti gang and then I went to jail twice; once for graffiti and once for driving under the influence, I’d been smoking weed. I was just making bad choices in my life because I didn’t have mentors and my relationship with my dad at the time wasn’t that good. So I was kind of trying to find my identity and I wanted to be someone. Graffiti was that vehicle I used. It gave me recognition and a little bit of fame and I met a lot of friends through graffiti. So at the time I felt like it was okay.

Then I got invited to a church group. I was suffering from depression and anxiety attacks at the time. So I went to the church and it was a youth night. The guy was preaching and that night I accepted Jesus in my heart and ever since then my anxiety attacks went away, my depression went away. Little by little I started leaving behind the negative things in my life and I started leaning more towards the positive. Then that’s when I met my mentors and I had other opportunities to create murals in the community and work with young people and mentor them.”

Since 2009, Francisco has been a mentor to emerging graffiti artists. He teaches them the benefits of creating art for the community and social change.  He credits a number of programs, including AmeriCorps, Chicanos Por La Causa, Public Allies and Youth Leadership Institute (YLI), with having a positive influence on his life. 
 

Why is this Recommendation important to youth in general, or to you specifically?

I think mentoring is important because when I was headed in a negative direction in my life, everything started changing when I was introduced to different nonprofit organizations. Many of my counselors and case managers from those organizations actually became my mentors and if I didn’t have those mentors in my life I think that I would not be where I’m at today.

What role should a mentor play in a young person’s life? What do you think a good mentor should be able to do or provide?

Whenever you mentor it has to be done in love, because if you do it in love I think that it’s more effective. You can connect to the mentees more. If it’s not done in love, then the kids are not going to connect…

The mentors that I think helped me out the most were able to identify my weaknesses and the areas I needed help in. For example, I needed some support in education, support in gaining experience in the field that I was interested in, and support in actually planning goals for myself – like going to a university one day. I didn’t see myself going to school, but when I had those mentors they pushed me to think outside the box and actually think about going to school for art. I do art as my major in college now.

They also provided resources for me. So they weren’t just talk, they actually connected me to resources. They connected me to an internship where I had the opportunity to be an art instructor and I was working under another art instructor who became my mentor, as well. I learned so much from that experience that now I’m able to get jobs and projects working for schools. Now I’m mentoring students. I feel like that torch has been passed on to me and I want to pass it on to the next generation.

Can you talk a little bit about your own experiences mentoring youth?

I know that what I was taught worked for me. I went to jail twice and I was getting into fights and getting kicked out of high school. My life changed when I was being mentored. My mentors used art as a tool to give me empowerment to learn about my history and my culture and get closer to God. So what I’ve done is I’ve taken all those different avenues and I’ve tried to expose the youth to those things, too. I try to expose them to faith and hope and I encourage students to learn about their heritage. I pretty much use the same principles that I was taught by my mentors and I offer it to the students.

The students take whatever they take from it, but I have seen the fruit of my labors. For example, I have a friend who, when I met him, he was an upcoming artist and he was trying to go to school but he wasn’t documented. So he was really discouraged about going to college. So I had him come over to my internship where I was doing artwork. I told him my story and about how my life was changing and I started mentoring him. We became friends. He ended up receiving the same scholarship that I received from Phoenix College. It was an art competition and this year he got first place for sculpture and painting and he got the Eric Fischl Vanguard, which tops all the other first place awards. 

I’ve encountered other kids like that, too. Many of them are taking Chicano Studies. Some of them are taking painting. I’ve mentored graffiti artists and I’ve been connecting them to programs like the Water Writes project; it’s a foundation that goes around the world painting murals about human rights and clean water. They actually came to Phoenix and I helped organize that. We had over 20 different artists and some of those artists came from my kind of background. And now they’re becoming leaders in their own communities and their teaching kids. So it’s like a pattern or a cycle.

One of the things I learned through being mentored is that mentors always follow up. They would call me, we would do an assessment of goals. So now, sometimes I sit my friends down when I see that they’re trying to do better, but they’re struggling. I’ll them, ‘this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to write down your goals. We’re going to write down your short-term goals and your long-term goals.’ I treat them as I was treated when I was being mentored and it works. It really works.

What motivates you to mentor?

I think that one of the things that definitely motivates me is God. The other thing is just working with the kids because I see myself in them. It makes me feel like I have a responsibility to be an example for them. I know that I’m not perfect, but maybe if they can take something from my experience then I can feel like I did something good. I taught somebody to do something good.

Why do you think it’s important to have mentors who come from a variety of different backgrounds and have different life experiences?

I think it’s important because in my experience I grew up in a Mexican immigrant community until I was 16 years old. Growing up, I encountered a lot of prejudice. When I moved to Arizona I encountered Neighborhood Ministries, which was a church-related organization. There were a lot of Caucasians in the organization and they were helping out the Hispanic community and that to me was something new. I had never seen anything like that in my life. I had never seen Caucasians reaching out to a poverty-stricken Hispanic community. It really surprised me and it really opened my eyes to seeing that not everyone is prejudiced. It doesn’t matter what race or color you are or what type of background you come from. It showed me that what matters is what’s in your heart. I got to see peoples’ hearts instead of just judging them because of the background they came from. So that was a big eye opener for me.

It was really community-related and church organizations that helped me out the most. As an artist, it’s not like a regular job. I gained knowledge from something like ten mentors from different fields and it helped me to kind of blend all that information into creating what I’m doing now with art in my community. I do public art, but I do stuff that’s political, trying to get involved in different areas of education and schools. So gathering all the knowledge from all the different mentors, it helped me to know my dream and my career goals. Having multiple mentors would be the best situation so you can get different perspectives.

What do you think needs to happen to make this Recommendation a reality?

I think there just needs to be more research on programs that are actually working and maybe we could give some more money towards those programs. Maybe even hire young people, like myself, to work in the community and mentor others. I think there are a lot of young people that are hungry to teach others what they’ve learned, but because they need to also make a living they end up getting jobs that are regular 9-5 jobs and they’re not able to use their talents. 

If there were only more opportunities like Public Allies or AmeriCorps or other service jobs where young students can actually put their talents to use, I think that would be one way. The other way would be to advertise it in high schools and colleges. Really putting it out there and connecting mentors and mentees.

What do you see yourself doing in the future? Do you want to continue to mentor?

I see myself finishing school, getting a master’s and possibly being a professor at a university. I would like to introduce spray paint as a medium. Just like how some artists use acrylics or oils, I want to have a specific program for public art that would bridge the gap between graffiti and more traditional art. I want to show people who are doing urban art that it’s possible to make a career out of your art and be respected within the arts. We need more leaders that do urban art. I think by putting it at the university level it could be more respected or people could actually view it as a possible career and also as a tool to empower young people.

 

 

Powerful Speeches Delivered at YouthBuild's 25th Annual AmeriCorps Conference of Young Leaders

A YouthBuild member shows off his moves at a Talent Show. 

Earlier this week I was very excited to attend a segment of YouthBuild's Conference of Young Leaders. For the uninitiated, YouthBuild is a series of youth development programs that "work to unleash the intelligence and positive energy of low-income youth to rebuild their communities and their lives."

Numerous partners of YouthBuild, including The Corps Network, were invited to watch as nearly 30 Youthbuild members competed for 8 elected positions on Youthbuild's Youth Leadership Council. Candidates gave short 2 minute speeches highlighting their backgrounds, the role YouthBuild had played in improving their lives, and why they wanted to be on the Council. 115 delegates from around the country attend the Conference, and so the audience was filled with supportive peers and mentors. Some YouthBuild members are even part of Service and Conservation Corps where YouthBuild programs also operate. And while the time each candidate had to speak was short, I found that there was an incredible amount of passion, authenticity, and inspirational messages interwoven in what they each had to say.

Here are some of the great quotes that I wrote down among all of the speeches (and my apologies if some of these I recorded with some minor variations! Rapid fire inspiration is sometimes hard to record quickly when spewing forth like a river busting through a dam):

"We want to show this country we aren't losers. We're leaders. We're not menaces. We're ministers."

"You are who you are based upon your actions not how you look."

"This is your chance to make a difference in your life."

"Without Youthbuild there's so much I could be into that's not positive."

"Just because I'm a woman doesn't mean construction jobs are just for men."

"Service means a lot to me and it's a big part of who I am."

"YouthBuild took me out of a dangerous river where I wasn't building bridges for future generations."

"I'm already a member of the Youth Leadership Council even if there isn't an official spot for me."

"I promise to lead myself to the top leaving no one behind."

"I want to be that domino effect where one person helps another and it keeps going."

"One of my biggest dreams is to build my mom's first home from the ground up."

"If the rural [community] doesn't speak up, our problems won't get fixed."

"In this world we are all atoms, full of energy."

"As Frederick Douglas said, 'without struggles comes no progress.'"

"A lot of people say you can't turn a prostitute and drug dealer into a housewive, but here I am... I feel like I committed adultry because I'm married and I'm also in love with YouthBuild."

"No dejes para maniana lo que puedas hacer hoy / Leave not for tommorow what you can finish today."

"Education is a great equalizer."

I express my congratulations to all of the candidates for having the courage to run and tell their deeply personal stories to what was essentially a large room of strangers. I also am glad I did not have to vote, as there were clearly many, many worthy candidates for those 8 spots on the youth council. Thanks also to YouthBuild for the invitation to participate in this inspirational event!

2005 Corpsmember of the Year: Lasharee Jones

 

Two years ago, Lasharee Jones didn't have much hope.  A high school dropout and a single mother, she was struggling to make ends meet.  Then she came to the West Seneca Service Action Corps (now The Service Collaborative of WNY, Inc.).  While serving as an AmeriCorps member for two consecutive terms, Lasharee is achieving her dream.  Making deliveries for the Buffalo Food Bank, building homes through YouthBuild and beautifying local parks, Lasharee is making a difference to those around her.  Now she is about to receive her GED, a feat she had not imagined possible two years ago. Lasharee cannot wait to go to college and build her future. 

--“I don’t just want to feed people and clean a lot, I want to inspire.  I want to teach people through my actions.  I want people to get this message of service and do it too.  There is no point sitting around blaming others for not succeeding.  I’ve been given a gift, inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King I want to walk in his footsteps inspiring others.”

(written in 2005)

2009 Corpsmember of the Year: Arthur Jacuinde

 

When Arthur Jacuinde enrolled in the EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps' YouthBuild program in March 2007, he was facing many obstacles in his life.  He was unemployed, on Juvenile Parole, a high school dropout with no work experience, and living in a group home. 

With the support of the Corps, he enrolled in EOC’s School of Unlimited Learning - a charter high school - to complete his secondary education. After just eighteen months, Arthur passed the California High School Exit Exam and received his high school diploma.  With his AmeriCorps Education Award, he enrolled at Fresno City College.  Arthur was also selected as a delegate at the National Young Leaders Conference and has begun working on a pilot program, “Our America,” initiated by YouthBuild USA.  As part of the project, he is talking to other corpsmembers and encouraging them to share their life stories. He is working on initiating discussions about issues affecting corpsmembers and raising awareness about these issues.

Arthur was also recognized by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Division of Parole Operations for his commitment to change and achieve success.

Arthur is currently enrolled in a second term at Fresno and plans on using his education award to continue furthering his education at Fresno City College in the Fire Academy.

As Arthur says:

“I realize now that nothing is impossible. I have learned a few things about what life is and now I have total control over the outcomes in my life. I now understand the value of my freedom and that even though I cannot change my past, I am in total control of my future.”