May 15 2017

Charlie Ruiz: Boyle Heights

“Education is a pathway to a better life – a path to better everyone’s perspective.”

Charlie Ruiz

Which living person do you most admire?  

My grandmother.  Huge things come in small packages, her personality lights up the room.

What is your idea of happiness?  

Being surrounded by friends and family; good times, carne asada, a good laugh.

What is your most treasured possession?  

My iPhone.  It’s the first thing that I bought with my own money and I see it as the first step toward becoming more independent.  

Charlie is introspective about multiple facets of identity.  In college Charlie began to understand her potential as a leader and the importance of embracing a Latino identity, noting: “College has shaped how I work in and with the community and how I see the need in Boyle Heights.”  Charlie – a name she adopted to reflect a gender non-conforming perspective – identifies as both queer and gender fluid and is an active member of the LGBTQ community.  She is an advocate and community leader, deeply engaged with Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Boyle Heights and several of their partnering organizations.  

Charlie works with Latino Equality Alliance (LEA) alongside her mother, who has been unconditionally supportive of the fluidity of her gender identity.  Their work with LEA focuses on programs that serve the LGBTQ/Latino community in Boyle Heights, which includes developing anti-bullying campaigns for all youth.  Charlie also works as a Promotora for Clinica Romero and is heavily involved with Ahora Es – a Cancer Prevention program aimed at educating the community about health and prevention through lifestyle changes.  By developing and presenting workshops to the Boyle Heights community, Charlie hopes that this health equity knowledge will expand to other areas of Los Angeles.  Charlie also works side-by-side with her mother on the Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) prevention program going door-to-door in their community to educate families and engage at-risk youth in gang prevention programs.  Previously, she has also served as a mentor through LA’s Best, an after-school enrichment program for elementary school-aged children.  

Born and raised in Boyle Heights, Charlie Ruiz is a true community native, spending all but a few months of her twenty-one years living in or near Ramona Gardens.  Charlie was raised, along with her younger sister, by devoted parents who both instilled and nurtured a passion for education.  Currently in her third year at California State University, Northridge, her educational journey has included participation in the I Have a Dream Foundation, which follows and supports youth through “twelve years of school” from first to twelfth grade, and Southwestern Academy, a high school and private international boarding school.

Her dreams are limitless: Charlie is planning to finish her bachelor’s degree and then apply to graduate programs in Creative Writing.  She also dreams of establishing a non-profit organization to offer free English language classes in Boyle Heights, as well as envisions giving back to other communities in need by establishing a shelter for LGBTQ youth in rural Mississippi, because she says that’s where it’s most needed.  Ever the optimist, Charlie tells us, “I’m going to change the world somehow.”  It is plain to see that in Boyle Heights she already has.    

Mary Ruiz: Boyle Heights

“Wealth is in your head and your heart – that’s where we are rich.”

 Mary Ruiz

Which living person do you most admire?  

I can’t name only one.  My mother because as a single mother she did everything she could to help her children.
I see her as a role model.  Member in community – Liliana Martinez.  She knows a lot about what happens in our community.  When I don’t understand something, I ask her.

What is your idea of happiness?  

If you’re doing what you love, then that is my idea of happiness.

What is your most treasured possession?  

My daughters.  They are my treasures.  

Mary sees herself as “someone who works for the benefit of the community” and she is passionate about working with Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Boyle Heights and their partner organizations to foster health equity throughout the community.  Mary has lived in Boyle Heights for more than two decades, arriving here with her husband at age eighteen, leaving her entire family behind in Mexico.  The chronic instability of her childhood drove Mary to ensure that her two children felt the sense of permanency she never experienced.  Ultimately, the vibrant Boyle Heights community provided Mary, her husband, and their two daughters, with a sense of stability and purpose, even in the absence of their extended family.     

She is a Promotora with Clinica Romero, a community-based organization established 33 years ago by Salvadorian immigrants displaced by civil war, organizing around the principle that healthcare is a human right.  Utilizing her public speaking and organizing skills, her work as a Promotora focuses on two very different campaigns: Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) and Ahora Es.  GRYD offers a prevention program targeting youth at-risk of gang involvement.  In this role, Mary engages in door-to-door outreach, talking with families about possible participation.  She has found it most effective when she and her daughter Charlie work side-by-side allowing Mary to speak with caregivers, while her daughter engages with the youth.  In turn, Ahora Es is a cancer prevention program that Mary supports, developing and presenting workshops for the community, with content focusing on both health education and prevention through lifestyle changes.  

When Mary is not working as a Promotora, she regularly volunteers with non-profit and community-based organizations whose missions are near and dear to her heart.  Recently, when her eldest daughter came out – identifying as genderqueer, Mary supported her unconditionally, learning all she could about gender identity and even volunteering with BHC partner organization, Latino Equality Alliance (LEA), alongside her daughter.  As part of this, Mary is driven to end bullying – among both LGBTQ and cisgender youth – and she is also committed to leading the charge to end gender stigma within the Latino community.  In addition to devoting time to LEA, she has volunteered with Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE) and Legacy LA, two organizations focused on positive youth development.

Mary is a courageous yet humble leader within the Boyle Heights BHC.  When asked about a future goal, she cannot name just one, explaining: “I’m a mother, I’m a citizen, I’m a friend, I’m a neighbor as well, and so I have goals for each of those roles.”  She is clearly dedicated to making sure all of Boyle Heights is healthy, prepared and educated to address the challenges it faces, including gentrification, displacement, education and health disparities.  More than anything, Mary hopes to continue to learn so that she can continue to give back.       

Binti Musa: City Heights

“Youth are going to make the world a better place.”

Binti Musa

Which living person do you most admire?  

I most admire my dad because he’s been through so much and to see that he is still standing.  But I really admire his strength and support he has given us.

What is your idea of happiness?  

I am more happy when I am with my sisters or . . . community meetings with them all – it’s . . . one of the fun things we can do . . . we just laugh so much – so . . . going to those meetings with my sisters or . . . hanging out with my nieces and nephews, that makes me happy.

What is your most treasured possession?  

Anything from my nieces and nephews…they make cards for me and I keep every one of them.  I like to make a binder and keep them.  I don’t like to throw anything away.  I hold that stuff very close to me.

Binti has whole-heartedly embraced the freedom of thought, speech and expression of her adopted country.  She has volunteered and worked with Mid-City Community Action Network (CAN) for seven years and she is proud of the fact that she has been involved with non-profits her “whole life”.  Mid-City CAN is a community-based organization that for the past five years has served as the central Hub for Building Healthy Communities (BHC) City Heights.  Upon resettling with her family in City Heights, she first started working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the same organization that helped process her emigration from Kenya to the United States.  She recalls her social worker from IRC as an inspirational mentor who “made me want to be something that I didn’t think I was going to be back at home.”  Carrying forward that lesson – along with an older sister – she acted as a mentor for high school-aged youth for Mid-City CAN, she volunteered with the Crawford Community Connection assembling food and clothes for those in need, and she founded a program called Youth for Change that conducted research to better understand why young male refugees in her community were dropping out or truant from school more often than young female refugees.

Binti continues to volunteer with The East African Community & Cultural Center and she is passionate about food justice with respect to both residents’ access to healthy food options and to healthy halal options for students in middle and high schools.  She actively engages in protest, advocacy and organizing.  While her desire for change sometimes clashes with the traditions of older generations, she just laughs and knows that it is the youth of today who are going to enact the progressive policies of tomorrow.  

Binti was born in Kenya and spent nearly ten years in refugee camps until immigrating to the United States.  Along with her parents and five sisters, Binti has lived in City Heights for nearly twelve years.  During this time she has graduated from high school, obtained an associate’s degree in General Studies, she is working on a second associate’s degree in Sociology.  Binti hopes to attend San Diego State University.  

She aspires to become a congresswoman so that she can speak for her community.  She says, “no one knows the community better than the person that comes out of that community”.  She is appreciative of the many opportunities afforded through The California Endowment and BHC – in particular, she praises the organizing skills she has developed by attending the many workshops at last year’s Youth Summit, as well as the opportunity to speak with decision-makers at the State Capitol.


Juliana Taboada: Coachella

“At the end of the day, we can endure so much more than we think we can.”

Juliana Taboada (quoting Frida Kahlo)

Which living person do you most admire?  

My mom.  I think she’s so resilient and all of the things she had to deal with growing up and then all of the things she had to deal with as an adult – my mom is, I think, one of the most resilient people I think I’ve ever met and I love her very much.

What is your idea of happiness?  

My idea of happiness would be I think peace, not of . . . well, yeah the outer peace, but I think the internal peace that you feel within yourself.

What is your most treasured possession?  

I think it would have to be this bone that my dog gave me.  This is so weird.  But my dog has this bone that he likes to eat and there was one time when I was sad and he brought it to me because it’s his favorite bone.

Juliana has the confidence of a woman in her forties and the intellectual curiosity of university faculty, but she is only fifteen years-old.  She recognizes the privilege of identifying as a woman, but she is also active in the LGBTQ community and identifies as bisexual.  Though it has been a difficult journey embracing her identity as a woman of color, Juliana is now passionate about her heritage, which has grown from American, to Mexican American, to Chicana, and now Xicana.  To Juliana, Xicana signifies a more “radical” and “borderless” identity.  Her passion as a youth advocate for LGBTQ and communities of color has motivated her involvement with Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Coachella.     

Juliana has been part of BHC’s Youth Organizing Council (YOC) for more than a year.  With the YOC she helped put together The Hue, a music and arts festival developed by youth, and for youth, throughout the Coachella Valley.  While working on The Hue she was introduced to Raices Cultura – a youth-led organization that empowers community change through artistic and cultural expression – and she has been volunteering with them ever since.  Juliana was also involved with the Youth Participatory Action Research Team (YPAR) and she helped create a survey to identify community needs, which resulted in the proposal to establish an LGBTQ center for youth and a Pride festival, both in East Coachella.  More recently, Juliana just became involved with Coachella Unincorporated, a youth-led web-based and print-media outlet that focuses on social problems affecting young men and women and their community.  Her first article focused on “catcalling” which complimented articles on sexual assault in the same issue.  

Juliana also represented Coachella at the Sisterhood Rising Leadership Retreat (SRLR), an experience she says was critical in helping her with depression and understanding her “queer identity”.  She struggled with depression, which resulted from a confluence of factors – her parents’ divorce, “the school system and rejection” as well as coming to terms with her position as a woman of color in a “Eurocentric society”.  She explains that interacting with other youth experiencing similar difficulties at SRLR helped her learn “how to take care of myself” and identify “triggers” to both cope with and manage her depression.

Juliana is a middle-child with two brothers, one older and one younger, and now alternates spending weeks between her mother’s and father’s house in Mecca.  She is currently a sophomore at Desert Mirage High School.  Her dreams have evolved from wanting to be a princess as a preschooler and an astronaut in kindergarten to a Chicano Studies teacher today.  Juliana hopes to attend college, but she is unsure where, and she also wants to start a non-profit that “would allow students and youth of whatever identity, or whatever they are, to kind of just come and have a safe space to feel acknowledged and to learn.”


Sandra Ramirez: Coachella

“Do the maximum that you can with what you have.”

Sandra Ramirez

Which living person do you most admire?  

Right now Adriana.  She’s worked her whole life and she’s a woman very determined, like a warrior, because she’s told me her life and I’m inspired.

What is your idea of happiness?  

My idea of happiness is that we’re all treated equally with the same rights, that we all have what we need – that we all respect each other from all different walks of life; my happiness is respect because love doesn’t resolve everything, it’s more respect of each other.

What is your most treasured possession?  

My kids.

Sandra is a born activist and only feels fulfilled when “working with the community.”  In Mexico, as an adolescent, she volunteered at residential homes for the elderly and at sixteen she began working as a Promotora for the National Institute of Adult Education focusing on adult literacy.  In the early 1990s, as a young woman in Mexico, she was part of the Zapatista movement.  When she arrived in the United States more than two decades ago she longed for the chance to reengage with her community, and after a short time, she did just that: in Mecca she became active with the Community Council and advocated for sidewalk infrastructure for healthy spaces, also volunteering with a local resource center and working on their Healthy Start Program.    

Sandra was deeply moved by the injustices she saw laboring as a farmworker in the fields throughout Mecca and Coachella.  Because she had her “papers” and was working in the country legally, she was in a position to protest the low wages that were paid to farmworkers.  She was frustrated that undocumented workers did not have the ability to organize.  Recalling an experience realizing workers were paid only $15 for a full day’s work, she remembered, “that’s when I saw we should all have that privilege to demand we get a justified compensation for our work”.  This experience galvanized her belief in “equity not equality” and to this day she believes that “not everyone deserves the same, some need more”.  

Her experiences spurred her to obtain her citizenship, after which she started to volunteer at her children’s schools and began volunteering at a local church collecting and distributing food to those in need.  In 2012 she became involved with the Council for Mexican Federations (COFEM) and this led to her work with Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Coachella, which she has been engaged in ever since.  She has also volunteered with El Sol, helping women with postpartum depression, along with working at Planned Parenthood for nearly five years.  In addition, she is passionate about restorative justice in the education system in the Coachella Valley and she participates at school board meetings.  Sandra also attends Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) roundtables as a parent advocate.  

In her youth, Sandra dreamt of making a career out of development work internationally, but she also wanted a family – in her early twenties she struggled with which life path to choose.  She chose a family and meaningful “development” work here in the US – to this day, she could not be happier with her decision.  She says she will not stop her activism and will always strive to make the Coachella Valley a “beautiful place to raise my children”.  She envisions of a future with “more women in city council” and “restorative justice implemented in the community”.   


Alyssa Valdivia: Fresno

“Everyone’s story is important.”

Alyssa Valdivia

Which living person do you most admire?  

My sister, Vanessa.  No matter what’s going on with her, she always does what she can to help others.

What is your most treasured possession?  

My phone.  It’s how I stay connected to people.

What is your idea of happiness?  

I think happiness is within yourself, what’s inside of you.  If you can love yourself, you’re able to love others too.

Raised most of her life in Fresno, eighteen-year-old Alyssa Valdivia graduated high school in 2016, with honors, and served as class valedictorian.  While exceling in schoolwork, she also devoted time to extracurricular activities during her four years there and took on a part-time job when she was 16-years-old.  This strong young woman identifies both as Latina and as part of the LGBTQ community, seeking to continually learn more about those facets of her life and how they have shaped her.  She recently began studying at Fresno City Community College focusing her studies on Sociology.

Through her involvement with a Building Healthy Communities Fresno partner, The kNOw Youth Media – an organization whose mission is to support and equip young people with the journalism and advocacy skills needed to share their personal narrative and the stories of their communities – Alyssa was offered the opportunity to attend a Sisterhood Rising Leadership Retreat (SRLR) where, to her surprise, she easily connected with fellow participants and formed a trusting bond.  Shortly after participating in SRLR, she was introduced to BHC’s Women Empowered, a youth leadership group, and actively engaged as a member for over a year.  She credits this group with helping her learn more about herself and, specifically, why she cares about certain issues.  Through her involvement with BHC programs she has learned that one must start with just a first step toward a cause – then continue to push forward.  She sums this up by simply saying: “Because if you don’t, who will?

Alyssa’s experiences with BHC Fresno has given rise to many experiences and included learning about several issues such as restorative justice in schools and safe spaces for children, as well as developing her presentation skills and building confidence.  She feels her world has broadened and she has been enlightened about global issues such as women’s health both in and outside the United States.  Alyssa strongly believes that it is necessary to be part of a group such as the BHC community to learn about and understand the issues that deeply affect marginalized populations.  Though she has felt uncertain in the past, Alyssa’s confidence has soared because of her participation with Women Empowered.  She feels that she has a clearer understanding of herself and her potential as well as increased confidence since being connected to BHC programs.

Alyssa was raised by a single mother and is the youngest of three sisters.  Though their family faced economic obstacles, her mother always encouraged her three daughters to pursue education.  This translated to a strong work ethic which is evident from Alyssa’s commitment to her full-time job at a fast food restaurant where she excels at customer service.  Along with school and work, family has always been central to her life.  Alyssa came of age within a large extended family and was raised alongside her sisters and many cousins.  She shares that her sisters and cousins “have had a significant impact on my life”.  When considering who helped her develop a more open, worldly perspective on life, she readily credits the teachers who heavily influenced her.  While growing up and living in Fresno posed many challenges – “including on-going violence and exposure to drug use that was often too common,” Alyssa adds that she always takes time to explore the beauty of her hometown and appreciates what it has to offer.

Alyssa relies on her personal motto “Everything is going to be ok…” to help her manage her workload and any of life’s obstacles that may come her way.  She has clear short-term goals which focus on saving money for a car, pursuing her education, becoming more independent, continuing her community work with BHC and learning more about herself.  With her tenacity, positive outlook and zest for growth, she is surely on track to accomplish these goals and a great deal more!


Cynthia Escoto: Fresno

“Nobody should let their dreams be shut by anyone.”

Cynthia Escoto

Which living person do you most admire?  

My pastors at church.  They’ve always been there for me. Since the day I met them they opened their arms and church and home to me.

What is your most treasured possession?  

My iPad.  All of my assignments are on it.

What is your idea of happiness?  

Being surrounded by people who love you and who want to see you grow. If the people who love you make you laugh…that completes happiness.

Born and raised in Fresno, Cynthia is a nineteen-year-old junior at California State University, Fresno.  Majoring in Psychology, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in Psychology then pursue a Ph.D. in Clinical or Cognitive Psychology.  She is a member of Psi Chi, an international honor society for Psychology majors, and recently joined a research team to better prepare herself for graduate school.  

Cynthia’s involvement with Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Fresno began during her freshman year of high school.  During her junior year, she participated in the Women’s Empowerment Group.  Together, the group learned about their community and participated in various activities, often volunteering together throughout Fresno.  In the summer of 2015, she attended a Sisterhood Rising Leadership Retreat (SRLR), a unique gathering which offered participants the opportunity to share experiences and discuss the issues affecting their respective communities.  At SRLR she made lasting connections with girls and young women from all over California.  Earlier, during her freshman year of high school, Cynthia had been invited to attend The Youth Leadership Institute where she enthused she received the gift most beneficial to her – a boost in self-confidence. Because of this confidence, Cynthia is able to inspire others.  Beyond this, her message to young girls in her community is simple: “Reach out and get your voice heard!” She expresses deep gratitude for the BHC, particularly the encouragement she has received to speak up and fight for what she believes in.  

Along with her commitment to BHC, Cynthia has spent her entire life devoted to her family and the pursuit of her education and growth.  Born to immigrant parents, Cynthia is the middle child of an older sister and a younger brother.  While disabled and unable to work, her father is currently pursuing his GED at Fresno Adult School.  Her mother attends ESL classes and her sister is a fellow student at CSU Fresno.  Earlier in her childhood, Cynthia studied music and played for several different musical groups in school and in the community.  However, there was also toil in her life.  At age fourteen she labored as a farm worker in the agriculture fields to contribute to her family’s income.  She vividly remembers the exhaustion she felt during that time, as well as the disbelief that others, her parents included, had to endure such labor.  Identifying as Latina, Cynthia explains that as a young teen she would advocate with her mother for immigration reform.  Today – while she is far from the fields – she continues to work hard for the marginalized.  Along with her BHC involvement and educational pursuits, Cynthia stays busy with other community-building efforts and part-time work.  She is actively involved with her church, works part-time at Orchard Park Senior Living and volunteers at Asera Care Hospice – something that brings her great joy.  And she has recently begun volunteering at National Alliance on Mental Illness in Fresno.  

Cynthia offers a profound example of perseverance and she truly lives by the words, “don’t give up”.  As a leader, organizer and advocate, she says: “If you get told you can’t do it, I’d say just do it anyway.


Fatima Alleyne: Richmond

“My goal for my life is to be the voice of the voiceless – for children and their parents – that’s what I believe I’m here to do without fear.”

 Fatima Alleyne

Which living person do you most admire?  

If this is what I’m going though as a little black woman in the world, I could only imagine what Obama went through.  But Obama’s wife.  I would say I admire his wife, because that’s a whole lot to stand by your man and see these people attack your man.  I would say her.

What is your idea of happiness?  

Stability, safety and love.

What is your most treasured possession?  

My kids.

Fatima is a native New Yorker, a mother of four, she has a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in Materials Science and Engineering and she is a tireless advocate for quality education in public schools.  While she has lived in Richmond for more than ten years, she only truly became active in her community five years ago.  Seeing the inequities in her children’s local public schools drove her to demand more from the schools.  Because of this concern, since that time she has been active on the PTA, School Site Council and Community Budget Advisory Committee.  Fatima is a passionate ally and advocate, working side-by-side with Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Richmond to reform West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD).

Fatima has a long-standing interest in education – with a focus on STEM studies in particular, as illustrated by choices she made while in school.  Her graduate education was funded both by the National Science Foundation and UC Berkeley’s Chancellor Opportunity Fellowship and she used some of that funding to provide STEM opportunities for kids in the local school district.  Even though she was passionate about science education, she wondered “why am I doing all this work for a community that has all these resources, what about the ones that don’t?”  

As a PTA member, she was inspired to start an enrichment program that provided field trips and activities to elementary students.  She began to investigate how money was being spent and how outcomes were measured and met in schools, this led to her involvement with WCCUSD’s Local Control Accountability Plan.  She subsequently decided to dedicate her career to improving conditions in schools and has recently been elected as the Contra Costa County Board of Education Trustee for Area 1.  Fatima has built partnerships with BHC to help support their programming and advocate for likeminded goals around education reform.  In efforts related to BHC, she has long supported RYSE, a local youth center which she hopes her own children utilize when they are of age, as well as working with both BlackBoard and The Latina Center.  She has also served as an education advocate for the Center for Restorative Solutions, an organization that addresses the complex needs of students who have experienced trauma.  

When people tell her that she can’t do something, she is determined to prove them wrong.  From being a teenaged mother, to finishing high school, or completing her Ph.D., she finds herself compelled to overcome.  She did not “come from privilege” having experienced trauma and hardship throughout her childhood.  Yet, she credits education for pulling her through.  Whether it was her early exposure to computer science as a student in 1985, spelling bees or science fairs, she found powerful outlets and opportunities in education that cultivated her love of learning and STEM.  She works tirelessly to ensure that youth throughout Richmond and Contra Costa County have the same opportunities as she did.  When asked if she will ever quit she says: “Girl, I’ve been fighting all my life.  I embrace the war.  If I wasn’t fighting for something, it wouldn’t be worth living”.


Veronica Stevens: Richmond

“Everything matters. Your voice matters, her voice matters, his voice matters, everything matters.  Just speak up.”

Veronica Stevens

Which living person do you most admire?  

My mom.  My mom, it’s easy.

What is your idea of happiness?  

Being loved I think is my idea of happiness.

What is your most treasured possession?  

I have a certificate from this program called Teen Echo.  

Born and raised in Richmond, Veronica is a sixteen year-old junior at El Cerrito High School.  Veronica’s life has been difficult – filled with the uncertainty of living in motels, sleeping in cars and coping with a father who has been incarcerated most of her life.  She says that Richmond was “a beautiful place” in her childhood, but in recent years it has been plagued by “crimes and murder”.  Neighborhood violence is now a fact-of-life for Veronica and she talks about friends whose “parents or their brothers or their siblings are dead and it’s just them and they got to struggle on their own”.  She attributes much of her personal growth and capacity to persevere in the face of adversity to her participation in Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Richmond programming and activities.  

Veronica is thankful for finding RYSE, a BHC partner organization that serves as a resource and drop-in center for youth.  RYSE is a safe space for youth to come together to “love, learn, educate, heal and transform” and serves as Veronica’s sanctuary.  At weekly meetings she and other youth discuss racism, ageism, sexism, the rise of white supremacy and police brutality; they share how these issues affect their families and community.  RYSE also offers therapy and support groups for LGBTQ youth, health centers, and computer labs, as well as college-prep and cooking workshops.  Veronica gravitates toward RYSE because “everybody is welcoming here and you know, you just have a lot of support here”.       

Through her participation in RYSE she has also become active with Richmond Youth Organizing Team (RYOT) at her school.  RYOT is a collective of Richmond youth who are dedicated to developing the “next leadership generation”, meeting at RYSE weekly to plan and carry out youth-led activities throughout the community.  Veronica helped organize a forum with RYOT that brought city council candidates together so that youth and candidates could openly discuss the issues that are important to Richmond residents.  It was also through RYSE that Veronica was able to attend Sisterhood Rising Leadership Retreat, a week-long program designed to build a network of sisterhood and the leadership capacity of young women of color in BHC sites throughout California.

Veronica wants to see her city “get better” and she hopes the work she does and the lessons learned with RYSE will make a difference.  She aspires to be a youth coordinator herself in the future and help other “troubled teens” who are struggling.  She is uncertain about where she will be after high school, but she is “hopeful that something good happens” and “will just keep doing the same thing I do now and hope that something changes”.


Araiye Thomas-Haysbert: Sacramento

“Nothing beats a failure like a try.”

 Araiye Thomas-Haysbert

Which living person do you most admire?  

Oprah.  She is just a powerful figure – she is a role model to me.

What is your idea of happiness?  

Seeing my mom smile.  I think the happiest moment I’m going to have is when she gives me a hug after coming off the stage at graduation.  I think that’s going to be the happiest moment of my life.  

What is your most treasured possession?  

This locket my mom gave me.  She gave me and my little sister our own locket.  She just . . . kissed it and to me that sealed it . . . her presence is there always.

Araiye hesitates when asked where she is from.  She was born in Sacramento, but throughout her seventeen years she has moved almost too many times to count.  Together, Araiye, her siblings and her mother were homeless throughout her freshman and sophomore years in high school, causing her to attend six different schools in two years.  While experiencing a continuous process of transition, Araiye began to notice the extreme inequity that existed between the schools within affluent Sacramento communities, such as Elk Grove, and disenfranchised areas of South Sacramento. 

Even while enduring homelessness, Araiye gravitated toward community engagement and, after being introduced to Youth Engagement Coordinator Alondra Young, she became involved with Building Healthy Communities (BHC) programs and activities.  Between her sophomore and junior year in high school, she began teaching summer art classes for children.  Beyond this, she devoted time to working as a leader within the BHC’s Youth Leadership Group.  With other youth leaders, Araiye helped organize a town hall with mayoral candidates, including current mayor Darrell Steinberg.  The town hall served as a platform for young men and women to engage with mayoral candidates, fostering a “youth voice” on issues that concern families and communities.   

While working with BHC youth and programs, Araiye embraced her sexual orientation and gender identity.  Coming out as a lesbian was challenging for Araiye, particularly because her mother initially had difficulty accepting her identity.  Araiye stated – in no uncertain terms – that she was “really, really depressed coming out”.  But Araiye’s advocacy work has helped her mother accept her daughter’s sexual orientation and gender expression.  In fact, Araiye is most proud of the advocacy work she has conducted around gender justice issues.  She served as President of the Gay Straight Alliance in her high school, attended Sisterhood Rising Leadership Retreats for two consecutive years, and just recently participated in the Queer and Trans Youth Summit developed by The California Endowment.  She has also attended Sisters and Brothers at the Capitol, a conference designed to strengthen leadership and advocacy skills among young leaders of color.  With these experiences as part of her life, Araiye is interested in continuing to advocate for policy that affects LGBTQ youth.  

Araiye is fearless even though she is keenly aware that she faces considerable discrimination as a self-proclaimed “triple” minority:  a Black, lesbian, woman.  At only seventeen years old she has already overcome hardships many adults never have to face.  She has not simply overcome adversity, but she has persevered.  Araiye will be attending Benedict College in South Carolina in the fall, making her the first in her family to attend college.  When asked about future goals, she candidly states she has not quite figured that out yet, but confidently says, “I’m here to make a difference, to do something, be a leader – not be a statistic”.


Jaelyn Singleton: Sacramento

“My biggest goal in life or my biggest wish is self-awareness, self-actualization, self-determinism.  Because to know who you are, I think to be able to understand yourself, you’re able to understand so many other people.”

Jaelyn Singleton

Which living person do you most admire?  

Michelle Obama probably.  She’s just so elegant and just – it’s confidence without ego.  She stands by herself.  She is not just the first lady, she is Michelle Obama.

What is your idea of happiness?  

I think happiness for me is to be free.  Free from fear – free to do what you will and fear is a thing that doesn’t allow you to do what you will.  I think happiness is the implication that you can go where you want to go.

What is your most treasured possession?  

I don’t really have an attachment to a lot of stuff.  But my grandma gave me this box of all of her little things that she wanted to make sure that I kept – she collects coins so all her old coins are in there.  All of her . . . really good pictures.  

Jaelyn was born in South Los Angeles but as a preschooler she and her mother relocated to Sacramento, her mother’s city of birth.  In this period, she attended schools in both affluent and impoverished neighborhoods making her keenly aware of the effect place has on individual and community, especially on health and health equity.  More recently she had close friends injured and paralyzed by shootings and neighborhood violence.  These experiences, coupled with a family history of substance abuse and mental illness, have motivated her to effect change within her community and to engage with Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Sacramento.    

Education has always been important to Jaelyn.  In Sacramento she experienced two different educational systems:  a predominately minority school and a predominately White school on the east side of the city.  She describes herself as, “too White for the Black kids and too Black for the White kids”, thus she never felt a sense of belonging among her peers or within her community.  When it came time to enroll in high school, Jaelyn actively sought out McClatchy High School for its rigorous Humanities and International Studies Program as well as the diversity of the neighborhood it is located in.  

During high school Jaleyn became active in BHC activities and programs as well as other leadership efforts.  At age thirteen she started volunteering with BHC’s Girls on the Rise, a youth-driven organization for women of color aimed at developing leadership skills with a focus on health advocacy.  Later, she worked with the Sacramento Young Feminist Coalition (SYFC), a collective of high school students throughout Sacramento that met bi-weekly to organize events in an effort to support local organizations.  The SYFC also developed and facilitated annual conferences focusing on issues such as reproductive justice, self-love and self-care.  Jaelyn worked closely with the Youth Leadership Team, a collaborative youth-led program within BHC Sacramento and she attended The California Endowment’s Sisterhood Rising Leadership Retreat and Sisters and Brothers at the Capitol in 2014.  Even now, at age eighteen, she continues to work with Girls on the Rise where she was recently hired as a member of their permanent staff – her work focuses on mentorship and healthy food access.  

In her first year of college at Sacramento State University, Jaelyn is pursuing a double major in Psychology and Ethnic Studies.  While she is keenly aware of the impact of her grounding in Sacramento, she sees herself seeking new places, new experiences and most importantly, new perspectives.  She is passionate about mentoring youth to cultivate their ability to “make their own decisions with no fear” so that they do not have to choose between “an education or being safe”.

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