Los Angeles and Del Norte counties share little more than state affiliation and a coastline, especially in the spectrum of diversity.
Crescent City college student Alicia De Leon Mendoza in front of a design she created for a youth march in Los Angeles. Courtesy of Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA Youth Institute
In a youth summit held last month on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, five Del Norte young adults joined more than 200 others from across California to march three miles in downtown L.A. — the first visit of their lives to L.A. for some of the Del Norters — to promote youth empowerment and acceptance of diversity.
Cody Carpenter, Marissa Prado, Darian Sullivan and Ben Thomas, all 18-year-old students of Sunset High School, said they were drawn to the Dream Brave youth summit, organized by pop singer Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, because of a desire to make their community more accepting to people from all walks of life.
“We’re a group that’s interested in this kind of work and to think that there are other groups out there also interested in youth empowerment and changing community for the better and social justice, that was really powerful,” said Thomas.
The Dream Brave summit was produced by the partnership between Born This Way Foundation and the Building Healthy Communities initiative of the California Endowment.
Planning and executing a three-mile march from the California Endowment headquarters to the Staples Center, where Lady Gaga had a show that night, constituted the bulk of the event, but the entire experience was an inspiration for the participants.
“The whole philosophy is building youth leaders and that’s why we are invested in participating in these type of events,” said Josh Norris, who guided those youth leaders as part of his role with Wild Rivers Community Foundation and the BHC initiative.
Carpenter, Prado, Sullivan and Thomas have already demonstrated their potential as youth leaders by joining Sunset’s organizing committee, which has a goal of identifying and addressing social problems like bullying in their school and community.
As a member of BHC’s President’s Youth Council, a statewide youth-based advisory for the president of the California Endowment consisting of one member from each BHC site, Mendoza and about a dozen others took the lead in planning the Dream Brave summit. Mendoza’s artistic design was even chosen to be on the T-shirts for the event.
“It was amazing to see my friends from Del Norte go down and have the experience that we created,” Mendoza said.
All of the Del Norters participating had a hand in creating the event. They learned how to use Twitter for the first time in order to publicize the march. Thomas came up with chants to be said while walking, with the most popular of the day being his own: “Ain’t no power like the power of the youth. Because the power of the youth don’t stop — Say what?!”
“I felt a little ridiculous but by the end, I was screaming with the best of them,” Thomas said.
The expenses-paid experience provided the first time that Carpenter, Sullivan and Thomas had ever flown on a large commercial airline (Sullivan took prop planes to Redding) and been to the heart of LA. They appreciated the exposure to different people in the city and youth from around the state.
Diverse racial backgrounds, openly gay people and others who were proud to be on the social fringe all inspired the Del Norte participants.
“There were so many people that were different from what we’re used to, I mean we’re used to Crescent City,” Thomas said.
“I liked seeing the different kinds of people around and it was a new experience that I am proud to have had in my life,” Sullivan said.
The mission statement of the Born This Way Foundation demonstrates the goal of the event:
“Led by Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta, the Born This Way Foundation was founded in 2011 to foster a more accepting society, where differences are embraced and individuality is celebrated. The Foundation is dedicated to creating a safe community that helps connect young people with the skills and opportunities they need to build a kinder, braver world.”
Thomas plans on pursuing a career in community organizing and social justice work as a result of his experience with BHC and Born This Way.
“Personally what I would like to see in Del Norte County is more adult youth relationships and youth having more of a say in decisions,” Mendoza said.