I am currently in my second semester at college, where I am studying marketing and have a strong interest in advocacy. As I move forward in my education, I’m continuing to think about what I would like to achieve and the impact I want to leave behind, but also the experiences that have shaped these goals. So many of my past experiences have been springboards for future experiences, and unexpected connections made with colleagues and supervisors have often led to new connections and more opportunity. It could have been so easy to say “no” when offered these opportunities, but HERE to HERE is there for those who are prepared to take their future into their own hands, no matter how difficult the path. Saying "yes" was my first step to success.
I first learned about HERE to HERE when a staff member, Alondra, visited my high school and spoke about business in The Bronx community. We began a dialogue and I left educated on how community, class, and politics affect Bronx business. I developed a drive to voice my opinions and influence instantly when she, on the behalf of HERE to HERE, asked me to join them in a discussion with leaders from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. This gave me the chance to represent young people in my community and advocate not only for increased access to opportunity for myself, but also for all of my peers. Although I was initially intimidated to be in a room with so many people of power, getting into the room, putting a face to the institution, realizing that a simple conversation could change someone’s mindset, and that what I had to say mattered, made me feel influential. My initial conversation with HERE to HERE led me into a room with elite and highly respected members of society, making the mysterious not so mysterious anymore, as well as the impossible, possible.
After this experience, I was invited to speak to a group of employers about CareerWise New York Apprenticeship. With the help of the HERE to HERE team, I was able to prepare for the task at hand. Joshua was instrumental in assisting me to structure my speech, network with high profile individuals, and make the most of the event. Without Joshua, the experience would have been very different. The help I received reassured me that not everyone knows what they're doing and putting on the face of experience when you don't have any leads to more problems. This time around, I was less nervous about my presentation, and more comfortable working the room, networking, and advocating for what I believe in. I felt confident telling employers that experiences like the ones I’ve had give students who already have opinions and interests the chance to learn more and advocate for themselves and that these opportunities should be available to every teenager. After my speech, employers had not only heard what I said, but were also interested in talking more. I felt that these employers sincerely cared, that they really wanted to participate in change, and that many of them could connect to the position of teenagers: they know that school is not enough and that developing skills and relationships early on matters.
Following my speaking opportunities, I feel I have an increased stake in my community and in advocating for access and opportunity. I’ve since visited other community organizations, taken notes on what youth advocacy and social justice look like, and seen how I might push an idea into action. My advocacy experience to date has allowed me to see that there are people who look like me, as well as people who don’t, who are all fighting for me and my peers -- and it’s really nice to see that. We -- me, my friends, my classmates -- all have opinions that matter. We are not lacking in voice but platform. What HERE to HERE offered me was a way to share my views. When HERE to HERE first came to my school several years ago, I was just a kid with an opinion, but now I’m in rooms with a lot of power and wealth; I have the ability to advocate and speak for those that don’t have a voice; and I have the skill to show another side of things, create empathy, and change minds. I think it’s empathy and real connection that are often missing from so many of these important conversations. I think it’s a huge asset that I have this. I think it’s an important asset to reach the hearts and minds of others.
As I move forward in my work and studies, I hope to support other young people like myself in putting their opinion out there, placing them in the right rooms, and getting other changemakers to listen. The word “yes” can be the start of a success story or a failure. My experience has taught me to say “yes” to the right situations and to make the most of them. I haven’t decided what industry I’ll use my advocacy skills in yet, but I know that the future is in my hands. The options are open and limitless.