Youth Leaders Speak Out: A Sneak Peek at Our Upcoming Expressive Leaders Live Event!

“I’ve always been passionate about youth advocacy, and I’ve been involved with a lot of other programs within the community. Just getting to do something like that on my own and carry out a project, that I’ve been passionate about for a while, was exciting for me. I’ve been passionate about learning about public speaking because that’s always been something I’ve been super terrified of, and I never ever thought that’s something I’d be involved with. But through Youth Commission I got more in touch with people in the community, and issues that a lot of people don’t talk about, even students aren’t aware of even though it affects us directly. So that’s just something I became really interested in. And I wanted to help students get more in touch with that as well.” – Kayla Munguia

Kayla Munguia, a recent high school graduate attending UC Berkeley in the fall, first got involved with The Practice Space two years ago while on the West Contra Costa Unified School District Youth Commission, who we partnered with to help student leaders build confidence and public speaking skills. After years of being an active student leader, Kayla noticed how much the fear of public speaking prevents students from getting involved, from speaking up and sharing their experiences, and having a voice in decisions that directly impact youth, so she wanted to do something about it. 

Ella Bramwell, also an Expressive Leader, just finished her junior year at El Cerrito High School. She was interested in becoming an Expressive Leader because she loved the speech and debate summer camps she’s attended at The Practice Space, and knew it would be a great opportunity to continue to use her voice. Ella explained: “I think it’s important for people to feel comfortable expressing themselves because if you’re not, you can’t speak up for yourself. It’s important to get your voice heard, and what you want and what you need heard, by other people so that people can help you. And if you aren’t comfortable expressing yourself, it’s much, much harder to do that.” 

The Expressive Leaders Program

Expressive Leaders is a youth leadership program at The Practice Space that aims to do just that — get your voice heard — by creating enriching public speaking experiences where youth can make an impact on underrepresented voices and causes. For the past six months, these 13 leaders, ages 9-18, have each been diligently working on their own “voice project”, using their communication skills to help others. And we are so excited that, on June 20th, our community will get to hear from these inspiring students about their wide array of projects during our Expressive Leaders Facebook Live community event! 

At a time when there are so many interesting events happening online, one might wonder how to choose to attend this one in particular. Kayla offered a great reminder: “I’ve heard a lot of people say ‘where are the youth at?’ ‘Where are the young people who are trying to make a difference?’ So this is an insight into what we’re trying to do as youth.” 

The diversity of projects and voices is impressive. Both Kayla and Ella, who were interviewed about the program, spoke to this. Ella excitedly explained how inspired she was by the other students: “It’s been fun to meet the other people from Davis and Vallejo, and kids who I don’t normally talk to and see what ideas they have, and how people are doing their different projects. The girl who has the same mentor as me, she’s doing really cool student activism about climate change. She’s planning to put on a whole summer camp. There’s a whole thing about cooking which is really interesting. And there’s also one about the differences between generations. It’s a lot of different things that give you a lot of different perspectives.”

Kayla shared how that same diversity of perspectives it’s an important piece of what she’s gained from the program overall:  “Something I really appreciated about the program was having a network of other students and youth community leaders…because they were from all over too. They weren’t just people who I’d already had contact with. It was fun to see what other people are doing in their communities and just seeing all the different routes that youth advocacy can lead down. Because I’ve been focused on one certain part of it and seeing where everyone else has taken it has been really, really interesting.”

Program Advisor, Cristy Kountz, expressed her own wishes for the upcoming event that will showcase each student’s project: “I would like our audience to see the dedication our youth have in bettering their environments and circumstances. We hope to inspire the values of hope and change when a group of people come together. As a member of the community I think it’s valuable and essential to give support to those committed to learn, speak out, and create ways to help make a difference.”

Below is a sneak peak into Kayla and Ella’s projects, which you’ll hear more about on June 20th: 

Kayla: “My very first idea was to carry out a workshop at a middle school, and I wanted to do it at the middle school in my area, Helms. But carrying things out with the district, it just seemed like there would be a lot of hoops to jump through and I didn’t want that to get in the way of focusing on the curriculum side of things…So I decided to do it at RYSE, which is a community center for youth. They were really open to letting me carry that out with them.” But then, Shelter In Place was implemented and Kayla had to quickly pivot. “I had to change it to an online mini-course through Zoom…I had to change a lot from my plan for RYSE…because the activities I had planned just didn’t make sense to do over Zoom; it was more interactive, in-person activities…With this project I wanted to get youth comfortable with public speaking and specifically storytelling because that’s what my tie has been for youth advocacy, just like telling my experience in this district, as well as in Iowa where I used to live. So that’s my entry into carrying out that type of project…that was my intro.”

Ella: “My project is about how public education is funded in California but more specifically focusing on West Contra Costa Unified School District, which is the district around here. It’s the district I grew up in, my mom works in the district. Because of the huge decific we’re in this year, there’s been so much talk about what’s going to happen, what’s going to get cut, what programs are essential and what are not. And so I ended up interviewing students about what they felt like couldn’t be changed, and what programs couldn’t be cut, without affecting education. I interviewed students about the Arts programs and how that affects their education, and how they would feel if it was cut, if it would affect their education in a negative way. And there’s a couple other topics like the Arts that I interviewed people about. It’s going to be a podcast.”

Final reflections on hopes for their projects and using their voice in the future:

Ella: “The hope is that people who are not directly involved in schools, who aren’t teachers or parents or students, will get involved and take notice of the education of the youth in our community.” And for Ella, there is one clear way she plans to use her voice: “Sticking up for what I believe in. Whether that becomes activism, or podcasts, or just speech and debate in general, or advocating for myself. It’s important.”

Kayla: “It was definitely scary because I didn’t know if I was on the right track with what I was teaching, and definitely doubted myself a lot along the way, which is something that I also wanted to work on through this process, to be confident enough in myself to know that I bring something to the table, which is something that I had to confront and get past. But I really enjoyed it.” In the fall, Kayla will be attending UC Berkeley and shared what she plans to do with her degree. “I want to focus on how I could help underrepresented minority communities in the future. So, I’m going into a biological sciences kind of major and I don’t know if I’m going to stick to that but somehow I want to take that and bring it back to help my community. So even if it’s making sure that underrepresented communities have access to health care…or I’m also thinking of some type of political science maybe. I have immigrant parents so obviously that’s another interest of mine, like making sure immigrant communities know what their rights are and helping them fight for a path to citizenship. Those are two interests of mine. That’s one way I want to bring it back to help my community.” 

We hope you will join us June 20th, for one of our three one-hour Facebook Live events showcasing the projects of our 13 Expressive Leaders! Our three events will be streamed live on our Facebook page at 12pm, 2pm, and 4pm on Saturday, June 20th. Stay tuned on our social media for more info!

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