“A whole bunch of adults should not just be sitting in a room talking about the youth, without having at least some youth present to get our input and our voice on things.”

A photo of young adults watching a sunsetFebruary is Youth Leadership Month. In this episode of Into the Fold, we talk with three young people who are change-makers in their communities. Through two of the Hogg Foundation’s latest initiatives, these youths have been empowered to embrace new leadership opportunities to help improve their neighborhoods and communities. Our three guests, Kam’rin Christal, Cristina Figueroa, and Ricky Longoria, share their experiences with us and offer wisdom on how to further cultivate youth leadership across communities.

Answering the Call to Lead

Kam’rin Christal, age 15, got involved in DREAM 77021, a project of Neighborhood Recovery Community Development Corporation, one of the grantees of the Communities of Care initiative. He was invited to a meeting where Houston residents gathered to assess the needs of their community, with the goal of building a resilient community that promotes mental health and wellbeing for all residents. Having grown up in a neighborhood where young people were surrounded by gang violence and teen pregnancy, Christal recognized the importance of collaborating with others to prevent other children from having to grow up amidst these challenges.

Cristina Figueroa, also 15, was invited with her mother to attend an AccessHealth meeting. AccessHealth, a not-for-profit community health center serving Fort Bend County and Waller County, and another of the grantees to receive support from the Hogg Foundation under Communities of Care. This initial meeting inspired Figueroa to take on a role as a leader in her community, where she has also witnessed the damaging effects of challenges facing young people, like teen pregnancy.

Ricky Longoria, age 18, got involved his senior year of high school with mental health advocacy after attending the Robert Lee Sutherland Seminar in Bastrop, TX in April 2019. Like Christal and Figueroa, Longoria cites early adolescent experiences in his own community as inspiring him to help combat the high rates of teen pregnancy, depression, substance abuse, and suicide.

“I feel like some of the youth now do not really have a good support system,” says Christal. “I noticed a lot of schools in this community do not even have the wraparound specialists or even just psychologists or therapists on campus so that they have somebody to talk to.” Recognizing that many young people do not want to talk to their parents about mental health issues, Christal is passionate about building more support for young people in schools who feel like they do not have anyone else to talk to.

Finding a Voice

Christal notes that when he has gone to community organizing meetings, he is often the only young person in attendance. Still, just being at a meeting can have a profound impact on a young person. Christal tells us this is part of why he has been able to embrace his role as a leader: “Knowing that I have a voice to be able to sit in those meetings, to be able to talk with adolescents and adults about what our issues are,” says Christal. “That helped me come to the conclusion that I have some leadership on this issue.”

Figueroa agrees, saying that it was not until she was invited to attend a community meeting that she realized the power she had as a young person in the room. “A whole bunch of adults should not just be sitting in a room talking about the youth, without having at least some youth present to get our input and our voice on things.”

Longoria says that once the youth demonstrate passion about a cause, real changes will start to occur. “Without the youth, more than likely city councilmen, schoolboard – they’re not going to listen to adults, they’re just going to push them off. Once you have the youth involved, the chances are more than likely to get things done,” says Longoria. “And that’s exactly what needed to be done in our community. We needed change, we needed real change-makers, and I think we’re seeing real progress now that we have the youth involved.”

Advice for Adults

In order to get more youth involved in leadership and in their communities, all three guests agree that communication is key. Making young people aware of the kinds of community organizing meetings that are happening and getting the word out about community efforts are the first steps in cultivating stronger youth leadership. Furthermore, Longoria stressed the importance of investing in youth and children to not only get them to school and prepared for college, but also to give them something fun to do. “Have an assembly or forum with food and refreshments and get these young people excited about being change-makers!” suggests Longoria, offering an important reminder that community involvement can be fun, even if adults sometimes find ways of forgetting that.


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