If I could give advice to my younger self, who was full of aspirations and eager to impact her community in a positive way, it would be to use or create resources in my community. Since I became involved with the Gonzales Youth Council, I have had the opportunity to address issues important to my community; I’ve implemented voter registration drives, youth forums, policy to reduce youth alcohol consumption, and many other projects to engage and support youth.
Here are 4 ways that have allowed me to mobilize my peers to take action and create big change in my community:
1. SHOW UP
Being young does not mean that you are not allowed to attend City Council, School Board, or Committee meetings. Start showing up and do what you can to learn more about what is going on in your community.
Being the only young person in the room may make you feel out of place, but know that you are a pivotal voice in representing your peers.
Many of the adults in the room are community leaders who share information with the rest of the community. One thing they cannot do it share information from your point of view. So many adults will try to explain to you and your peers what is going on. But how powerful would it be if you were the one sharing your thoughts in terms they understand and connect with?
Young people want to hear from other young people. Show up so you can be informed and inform your peers AND adults.
2. KNOW AND REMEMBER YOUR “BIG WHY”
Your ‘big why’ is the motor that keeps you running even when you want to hit the brakes on a very bumpy road. There will be many incidents in which you will be overwhelmed and forget ‘why’ being a community leader and change maker is important to you. Don’t let those deter you.
When I hosted my very first informational meeting to organize my community, very few people showed up. I found it necessary to remember why this is important to me.
Successful community change doesn’t happen overnight. It is hard to achieve certain goals or outcomes within a few months of beginning your community activism. If you feel like you’re hitting a plateau, remind yourself of the bigger picture and the issues that drive you.
For me, being a leader in my community means amplifying the voices of my peers and individuals in disenfranchised circumstances. For you, it may be more general or more specific. Your leadership and work is valid and important, especially, if you want to mobilize others and make a change. Always take the opportunity to reflect on your approaches to see whether or not they tie into your bigger purpose.
So what am I getting at? Even if you think that nobody is listening or if people don’t show up, always put yourself out there. Own your space and know that you have something powerful to bring to the table. Your voice is important. It takes one person to create a ripple effect in your communities. Remember WHY you are in the space, WHAT you want to do, and HOW you want to convey your message.
3. SET EXPECTATIONS
Many people think that just because they show up to a meeting they’re already doing SO much. And although, you should pat yourself on the back for clearing your busy schedule to show up, showing up should be the expectation, not the exception.
Set the expectations high and pave the way for those who will follow in your footsteps. Just like Lin-Manuel Moranda says in Hamilton: An American Musical, “There a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait!”
The same applies to you. You are full of passion and ethos to change the world and showing up to a meeting is only one of the first steps towards accomplishing a million things. It is only a matter of time before others realize how powerful you are— especially once you look into the mirror and fully see this for yourself.
4. EXPRESS AUTHENTICITY, EMPATHY, AND GRATITUDE
In the midst of your community (and world) changing work, you will realize that you are juggling many things, along with your never-ending need to make the world a better place. Take time to appreciate yourself and thank yourself for what you have done so far. Take a moment to thank those around you who have been helping you.
In my case, it is my beautiful community of Gonzales, California; the Gonzales City Council; my School Board; my supporters Mr. Mendez, Ms. Modena, Ms. Slade, and Mr. Wolgamott; and everyone at City Hall and the District Office who has welcomed me with open arms.
Remember to walk with empathy and authenticity, and even when you’re experiencing major success remain humble. Your authentic self is the best version of yourself and empathy moves people. Always be clear with your purpose and how you share your passion with others.
I want to leave you with this quote from comedian Michael Jr. “When you know your WHY, your WHAT becomes more impactful because you’re walking in or towards your purpose.” Always remember your purpose and WHY you are doing WHAT you are doing because whatever you do will be powerful, will move people, will change lives, and will most certainly change communities.