On May Day, I had the honor and privilege of attending ENACT Day, a unique opportunity to bring our passion for change to Sacramento and tell legislators that investing in health, equity, and safety in every community benefits all Californians.
This year, as a volunteer youth mentor, I traveled to Sacramento with a delegation from Somos Familia Valle’s Youth Council, made up of LGBTQ+. youth ages 10-18, low-income, first-generation students of color. Somos Familia Valle is a San Fernando Valley community-based organization dedicated to support, empower, train, and mobilize the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer (LGBTQ) community and supporters for racial, gender, environmental, and economic justice.
For the opportunity to represent our organization of more than 60 young people, youth submitted YouTube videos answering the following questions: “Why is it urgent to advocate for environmental justice as LGBTQ+ youth? If you are an ally, answer, why is it urgent to advocate for environmental justice and LGBTQ+ rights?” and “Why is it important for you to represent the San Fernando Valley on this Advocacy and Leadership fieldtrip to Sacramento?” The Youth Council then voted on who would represent the organization at ENACT Day. At the end of our meeting, 10 youth were chosen to attend: Alina, Andre, Andres, Gianca, Hayden, J, Julio, Justin, Sabrina, and Tyler.
Sunday, April 30, our group woke up bright and early to travel to Sacramento. This was, for all of our youth, the very first time they were traveling outside of the San Fernando Valley, traveling as a group, spending the night without their parents, staying in a hotel, and visiting our State Capitol. As we exited Sylmar and got on to Interstate 5, they said “Goodbye, SFV, see you on Tuesday!” We arrived in Sacramento seven hours later and met up with approximately 180 fellow Californians and participated in a half-day training on health and safety bills moving through the California legislature. This year’s bills would increase access to free school meals for students enrolled in Medi-Cal; address hunger on college campuses by expanding access to CalFresh benefits; restructure the California Transportation Commission to provide a greater voice for communities most affected by transportation-related environmental injustices and underinvestment in their transportation infrastructure; and set in motion a statewide parks bond to fund parks and recreational facilities in communities that lack fair access to well-maintained parks and open space. Through meeting other community organizers, advocates, and youth leaders from low-income communities of color, like my community, we learned about their communities’ experiences with racial, social, and economic inequality and why it was important for each of them to attend ENACT Day.
Looking around the room, I felt immediately empowered by the amount of diversity and energy in the room. We were all here with one mission: ready to make a difference and speak up for ourselves and to represent other members of our communities who couldn’t be there that day.
Once we were inside the Capitol, we had a quick huddle to check in with our youth prior to going into our first legislative visit. They felt nervous and excited to share their stories and perspectives on the bills. One of our visits was with Senator Robert Hertzberg, who was excited to hear what our youth had to say. He encouraged them to keep doing good work at a young age. Our youngest member, Alina, who is 12 years old, shared with me how she never thought she could speak in public at such a high level, but she felt empowered to continue sharing her story and sharing her knowledge with other youth. She also mentioned that this opportunity gave her the ability to see herself pursuing a career as a politician.
We also ran into Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon. When I introduced my group, he was amazed that we had traveled all the way from the San Fernando Valley and invited us to his office to have a conversation. As we walked into his office and sat down I noticed how our youth speakers were in shock but once they settled in, they shared their stories and De Leon was impressed by them and their strength to advocate not only as youth, but as LGBTQ students concerned with their rights and their communities’ health and environment.
As I reflect on our visit, as well as all the smiling faces and joyful conversations that were shared on our way home, I am pleased to say that our youth had an incredible first-time visit to the Capitol. They were able to witness firsthand what it’s like to speak up about their community, their struggle, and their resilience. To me, this opportunity was life-changing in the sense that it reaffirmed my commitment to talk about my roots, share my experience, represent my culture, and -- above all -- share love and support for one another. Meeting everyone at ENACT Day helped fuel my fire for justice and motivated me to continue reaching out to my community, speaking up for those who can’t and connecting with our representatives to share the stories of our communities. Together, we can create a healthy California for all.