By Iliana Flores-Dumond
When I was in high school, I was introduced to the proverb “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” That sentiment really resonates with me as a young person. It is easy to feel buried by what feels like insurmountable problems we face as communities and as a state, and the leaders of our state don’t give youth the opportunity to try and address those problems. I’ve always felt empowered to make change in my community, even with the odds seemingly stacked against me, but nothing has felt more empowering than working at an organization that centers youth like me as changemakers.
The power of young people is practically unmatched here in Texas and across the country. My time as the Youth Engagement Intern at CDF has given me the opportunity to see young people use their creativity, open-mindedness, and tenacity in the name of making change, which has been more inspiring than I can put into words. Whether we are talking about youth capitol takeovers, young people who waited hours to testify in front of legislators, or young people who took the time to attend trainings and learn new advocacy skills, I can honestly say that the youth justice movement in Texas grows stronger every day, and the state grows stronger with it.
Working at CDF – Texas showed me that there is a way to genuinely engage with youth that centers their narratives and contributions rather than commandeering them. Too often, adults talk about the value of youth contributions without ever really making space for them to meaningfully contribute. By contrast my time at CDF has shown me that there is a way to lend a helping hand to the youth movement, help to uplift their stories, and give them tools to make change without stepping in to make the change for them. That opened my eyes to a future where young people, who make up a large portion of the population of Texas, can build a flourishing and diverse state for everyone.
Moreover, CDF has empowered me to act as a catalyst for change in my own community and the state as a whole. I’ve often found that systems of government at the local and state level are difficult and intimidating to navigate. I feel acutely the barriers to youth participation that exist within the system, be that lack of opportunity to register to vote, ill-timed city or state meetings that conflict with work and school, or even simply a lack of willingness on the part of government officials to value the ideas of young people. The skills I’ve learned at CDF have given me the courage to face and overcome those barriers, and the assurance that there is a network of people who will stand alongside me when I do so.
The underlying takeaway from all my experiences at CDF – Texas is that hope and perseverance will always win. I have been continuously inspired by the passion and commitment to change that my colleagues, partner organizations, and most importantly, young people have shown through the course of my time at CDF. It has convinced me that no matter how buried we may feel in the midst of things, there is always a bloom just around the corner. With the power of Texas youth growing every day, I’m positive the bloom will be brighter than ever before.
Youth Civic Education and Engagement Intern, Children’s Defense Fund – Texas