How Youth in California are Expressing Culture and Truth

06/30/2017 11:16 pm ET Updated Aug 03, 2017

It’s difficult to keep creative arts and cultural education programs alive in our California schools but instead of waiting for adults to figure it out, numerous youth in California are creating their own programs to ensure that there are spaces to cultivate creativity and using it to educate people around critical issues that they are working to transform. These 19 youth-led projects are taking action to revive indigenous cultural arts, tradition, and creative expression as a medium to encourage consciousness, empathy, and solidarity. Each of these projects was awarded a Youth Rising Grant, a new program done in partnership with The California Endowment, aimed at supporting youth visionaries, organizers and dreamers around the California.

Jasmine Stallworth, The MANIFESTival: Pieces In Harmony

Jasmine Stallworth Increase the Piece Manifestival: Pieces in Harmony, Oakland, CA.This project is a music festival that focuses on arts that heal the soul and mind. The artists are practitioners of sound healing music and work in communities of color to heal and transform trauma through these healing spaces. There will be many interactive elements included throughout such as dance and holistic education/food demonstrations the gatherings.

Nicole Vazquez, No Human Being is illegal, Santa Cruz, CA. No Human Being is Illegal is a mural project in the Beach Flats Community in Santa Cruz, CA to uplift the stories and contributions of migrant people. The mural will include images and text that were denied approval for a City mural that she was working on, particularly the phrase “No Human is Illegal.” Nicole says, “With this community mural, I am promoting my community story, the people who work and struggle...The people who come to this country to succeed but encounter limited opportunity. The people who are blamed and targeted, the people who are seen as outsiders because of their history, or their documentation status. Although we are promised sanctuary, and told that racism is no longer alive, it has been clear in my community that the violent and ‘ghetto’ stereotypes of my neighborhood are being enforced by over-policing and fear-based messages. My mural project breaks through stereotypes to highlight who we really are, instead of what we are made out to be.”

Caressa Nguyen, Sacred Lands, Native Hands, Sierra Nevada Foothills, CA. Sacred Lands, Native Hands connect holders of indigenous knowledge directly to current landholders to deconstruct the fences and walls of colonization. We cultivate relationships with landholders and create agreements that allow for easements to culturally significant materials. The cultural erasure of colonization has forced many indigenous practices into hibernation, but with access to land and resources they are being reawakened and shared.

Julia McCarthy, Everybody Dance Now!, Claremont, CA. “Everybody Dance Now!” Claremont is dedicated to bringing quality hip-hop dance classes to children in deserving communities around Southern California. Students explore creative movement, choreography, and musicality, while they learn dance vocabulary, history, culture, and context (including the intersections of art and social justice movements).

Programming will take place at Pomona Unified public schools and provides students: additional hours of physical activity each week; education support, youth development, and a platform to foster creative expression and appreciation of the arts; mentoring and a positive alternative to the risks and challenges of out of school time.

Jada Imani, Tatu Vision

Jada Imani Tatu Vision, CA. Vision is a series of events for arts activists to create conscious music, build community, and facilitate network for multi-generational communities that channel their art for social change. The project helps strengthen the artists in becoming the loving, healing, and interconnected family of solutionaries.

Tina Tieu, Keep in Mind, Santa Ana, CA. “Keep in Mind” is a documentary that chronicles the lives of 5 mentally ill teens of color. Directed by Tina Tieu and produced by Adriana Valladares, it was conceived to portray neurotypicals in a positive and human light. The film challenges social stigma towards mental illness while also encompassing the complexity of being at an intersection of multiple minorities. Riveting and strikingly raw, it addresses issues such as healthcare inaccessibility, racial disadvantages, LGBTQ+ policies, and the unspoken multidimensions of the human soul.

Tiphareth Harris-Banks, Conscious Nativ, Oakland, CA. “Conscious Nativ” provides studio space where youth explore therapeutic art, making clothing by hand, and multiple skills and forms of self-expression which allows them to build their own unique style of art. The goal is to empower the students and to help them gain their confidence by providing them with meaningful work experience, give them a safe environment to explore their creativity, earn a living wage, and bring more value to their families and communities. We are excited to focus this project on eco-friendly clothing design!

Orli Hellerstein, Dear Present Sincerely Future Oakland, CA. DPSF is devoted to helping minors get their voices out into the world and share their political opinions through short videos. These are videos created as if they are from the future from people of our the USA and that will inspire people not only to engage more in voting but to create other policy changes that affect today’s youth.

Gerald Warbritton, Xitleco Collectivo: Native Language Preservation

Robert Gerald Warbritton “Jerry Nicarao” Xitleco Colectivo Nahuatl Flashcards El Sobrante, CA. The Xitleco Colectivo is an organization that focuses on the preservation of Native American languages. This program provides various resources to children & teens, educating and enabling them to get in touch with their ancestry. The first language of focus is Nahuatl, spoken on the Western Hemisphere pre-colonization. Our first approach is a FlashCard project.

The Nahuatl flashcards for children will be brought to schools/other children’s cultural events and will be made available for purchase. The proceeds from every packet of flashcards sold will be sent to Nahuatl Revival Programs in Mexico through the Instituto K.A.N.A., based out of Zacatecas. This will enable our program to not only impact children in the U.S. but those in Mexico as well. Hopefully, we will soon stretch into Central America!

The organization was founded by 24-year-old Geraldo Warbritton (Jerry Nicarao), a Nicaraguan American, born & raised in the East Bay Area. Jerry is now the first in his family to once again speak Nahuatl within 5 generations.

Maya Diaz-Villalta, Naturalmente Indigena, Sacramento, CA. Maya (Pipil, Purepecha, Mexica) has a long-standing love of her family's’ traditional Meso-Amercian ceremonies, wilderness training, and a commitment to protecting Mother Nature and her creatures. Naturalmente Indigena is a youth-led project organizing activities and gatherings to maintain our connection to Mother Earth, indigenous ceremony, and to promote advocacy and awareness of environmental and Indigenous human rights causes. There will be environmental justice and education workshops at our youth cultural dance ceremonies. We will purchase a canopy and tables to create a mobile workshop and altar for youth and family events.

Wesley Phung, Social Awareness Films San Francisco, CA, A multi-media film project that will represent the everyday struggles of high school students of color and other minority populations such as the LGBTQI community. We aim to inspire more compassion and respect for all people.

Thao Le, Ba Trieu School of Consciousness San Jose, CA. The Ba Trieu School of Consciousness is an intensive youth leadership development program in San Jose, CA for Vietnamese / Vietnamese-American high school youth who see a need to enact change in their local communities. Participants will participate in a series of creative group exercises and engage in self-reflective conversations centered on racial and ethnic identity, gender expression and identity, discrimination, and family relationships among other topics. Students will explore the rich history of Vietnam as inspiration for grappling with the social justice issues present in their schools, communities, and larger society. With greater self-awareness, students will walk away with leadership skills to create meaningful change in their families, schools and communities. Additionally, they will have a better understanding of the nature and development of effective strategies for social change.

Paula Margarita Orrego Speak Up, Stand Up: Becoming A Changemaker Los Altos Hills, CA. “I will be holding an event for my Bay Area community called “Speak Up, Stand Up: Becoming a Changemaker” at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California. I will have five speakers from different activist organizations, including an anti-bullying organization and a mental health awareness advocacy group, educate us about relevant issues in our area and nationwide and provide us with concrete actions we can take to make a difference. I started this project because I want to motivate members of my community to become involved in these important issues and maybe become activists themselves.”

Maya Lin-Bronner Constructing Queer Bodies and Gender in Art Berkeley, CA. It’s not always the case that non-cis and gender non-conforming people can come to talk candidly about the way they feel about their bodies and how they are or should be represented. This project aims to create a safer space and bring young people together—specifically those who are trans and genderqueer/non-conforming/questioning—to engage in a conversation about the representation of their bodies as well as how they might represent themselves in various art forms and to translate that conversation into a collective zine (multi-media or traditional) that participants can take with them to keep and share with the world beyond.

Tai Gomez PeaceKeepers Project San Diego, CA. The Peacekeepers Project is a community based series of workshops, cleanups, and demonstrations organized by Barrio Logan youth leader Tai Gomez. The project is designed to orient youth to local watersheds, and help them identify water, soil and air quality concerns. The project will also serve to empower youth with the tools of nonviolent direct action.We equip young adults with the tools to act in a way that benefits their community and environment.

The goal is to train leaders that can train others, to be “boots on the ground” organizers of creek and coast cleanups, establish sustainable community gardens, as well as address local elected officials as to the needs of their community. Peacekeepers will be educated on divestment campaigns, focusing on institutions that tacitly participate in environmentally unsound practices and how to organize peaceful and creative direct-action against these institutions.

Vida Bonilla Blooming Expressions Brujx School San Francisco, CA. Blooming Expressions is a collaboration of young community organizers in San Francisco with the mission to provide sustainable solutions to the public to improve community health. It grows from a collective youth response to the lack of healthy food and alternative medicine options in our communities.

Through urban agricultural and medicinal practices, we aim to better the ecosystem of the most underserved neighborhoods practicing and teaching the traditions of our ancestors with our community. We will make and share herbal medicines, salves, and practices to restore the body, mind, and spirit.

This program will provide training, supplies, and education of members of Blooming Expressions, who will then become community peer educators.

Eric Morelos The Spot Hawthorne, CA. The Spot is going to be at a school that we work with near our high school. We started this project so that children at DVIA (Da Vinci Innovation Academy) can have a space to relax and read, write and be creative after school. Right now DVIA does not have a reading area on their campus, and our youth group wants to give them a place to hang out to study and be able to express themselves as they learn. This structure will have 3 seats, chalkboard walls, and bookshelves, and places to make all types of cool art.

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