(Sandy Garcia pictured left and Yaritza Garcia, right.)
As a sophomore I was introduced to Californians for Justice, a non-profit advocacy organization working to improve conditions for young people of color, and a door opened for me.
Now, as a youth organizer, I’ve gotten to work with many different individuals. One of them is Yaritza Ally Garcia, a 17-year-old senior at Renaissance High School for the Arts and a fellow youth organizer and intern with Californians for Justice. As part of the Every Student Matters campaign, Yaritza has been speaking at school board and city council meetings about inequalities facing many young people in our community.
I’ve personally seen her over the last year step out her comfort zone over the year and rise up as a leader. I reached to her recently to ask her to reflect on her first year as a youth leader.
I wanted to start off by asking how you first got involved with Californians for Justice and why did you stay?
I was first introduced through some of my friends. They were a part of it for about a year and the next year I worked up the courage to ask my mom to let me go and join them. Well, at first it was to try something different, something fun, mainly so I can stay out of the house. But after sticking around for a couple of meetings, I became interested in the social injustices they focused on, many of which involved students like me. One of the issues was related to our schools and how there was not enough funding for new books, computers, and supplies.
When I first started attending Californians for Justice weekly meetings, I did not see myself as a leader, much less speaking in front of large crowds or supporting others in different roles. What skills have you developed since you’ve been involved?
The biggest skill I’ve developed from this experience is public speaking. Before, I wouldn’t be able to speak in front of a crowd of 10 people. Now I’m doing spoken word, I’ve been an emcee, and I’ve even spoken to our school district’s board members and in front of our city council. I said yes to every opportunity to speak. I got to emcee at Californians for Justice 20th anniversary in front of the Teachers Association of Long Beach, Building Healthy Communities, Khmer Girls in Action, and others. During the dress rehearsals, I was nervous and messed up a lot. During the actual event, I was happy and relieved, because I never thought I’d be able to speak up in front of over 100 people.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?
My number one challenge is public speaking. I have a lot to say but I just never know how to say it. I get nervous in front of people who I know are in positions of power, or people in general. I worry about their opinion or that they will judge me, that I have to live up to their standards and expectations as to what a youth speaker should be. It’s difficult being so influenced by things but not being able to speak up.
I had that same experience when I was first asked to speak in front of all the Californians for Justice staff and youth leaders my sophomore year. Since then I’ve accomplished things I never saw myself doing. Can you tell me about an accomplishment you’ve achieved through Californians for Justice?
One of my personal accomplishments is knowing that I can be someone other people look up to. I’m out there with other youth like me making a difference. I’m able to break the stereotype that says the youth don’t care about issues. I’m out there speaking up and marching with other people that care sooo much about their community.
In what ways are you helping to break the stereotype of youth not caring?
People may think that we don’t care about our school, our education, or about voting. I showed I cared about all that and my community. I’ve spoken at city hall and have worked towards educating other students at my school. I’ve spoken twice at city hall about immigration, for there to be a pathway for immigrants to have citizenship and the $15 minimum wage raise … Immigration is one of the main issues that affects me. My mom and sister are both immigrants but have finally gotten papers after decades of waiting. Before they got their papers, it affected me how they couldn’t get a better job to better our lives.
At what point did you begin to see yourself as a leader?
Me? A leader? I don’t know if I would consider myself a leader. I’m trying to run a chapter club to get other students inspired, but I don’t know if I would consider that being a leader. A leader works with everyone in the group, so maybe while I’m in that space with Californians for Justice, I am a true leader, helping campaigns such as Believe In Me, Every Student Matters, and I Am 1,000 Votes. It was during these times that I’ve felt close to being a leader because those spaces give me the opportunity to speak up.
What are your goals for the following year as a youth organizer?
I’ve never really thought of new goals, more like just for me to keep growing as an individual, to be able to learn things and get out of my comfort zone, to push my own limits and move forward to be the leader I know I can be, and to inspire and help move future generations.
Photo of Yaritza Garcia provided by Californians for Justice.