The California Forward Young Leaders Advisory Council — a group of young leaders working to advance meaningful conversations while urging traditional leaders to expand their ideas about what it means to create an equitable future — this year welcomes 14 new members to the third cohort of the Council.
Sandy Mekany, a current member, said about the Council, “I wanted to be in a space where I could possibly make a change or a positive impact and being a part of the Young Leaders Advisory Council is giving me that opportunity.”
The Council had a successful year, engaging in the California Economic Summit work group process and releasing their 2022 Call to Action, which prioritized criminal justice reform, climate change and education.
The Council was also selected by Tuolumne County to be part of a broadband access project and to develop outreach strategies to target and survey students, ages 13-18, and senior adults ages 65 and above.
Additionally, Michael Wiafe, a departing member and the Council leader of the Tuolumne County project, joined the leadership board of the CA FWD Action Fund — the advocacy arm of CA FWD.
And now we enthusiastically present and welcome the following new members and look forward to them adding their voices to important policy discussions and taking action in priority areas:
Josh Lewis is a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley where he studied political science and public policy. Josh is originally from the Northern Sierra Nevada mountains, where he led youth-centered efforts to defend natural ecosystems and protect voting rights. He is currently an account coordinator at Lucas Public Affairs, supporting clients who seek to advance equitable climate and higher education policy at the intersection of politics, policy and communications. Formerly, Josh served as the chair of the University of California Student Association which represents the 290,000+ students of the UC system, and currently serves as an elected delegate to the California Democratic Party’s statewide Central Committee. As a member of YLAC, Josh aims to advance policy centering the California urban-rural divide, equitable access to higher education, and climate action.
Anusha Kadiyala serves as the chair of the City of San Diego Youth Commission with the mission to empower and engage youth in the city’s civic process. She believes everyone deserves a second chance and volunteers her time in diversionary programs. As a youth attorney, she advocates for juvenile defendants encouraging them to make better life choices and surround themselves with positive community influencers. She believes in youth empowerment through education and strives to promote social equity. She is a native of San Diego and currently attends Harvard College, majoring in Government and Economics.
Alvin Lee (he/him) is a rising sophomore at Stanford University, studying public policy and education, and the founder and executive director of GENup. A proud graduate of California public schools and a Bay Area native, he has been deeply involved in California education policy since ninth grade and envisions an interconnected education system where student voice and leadership help drive policy creation. GENup is now California’s largest youth-led education advocacy organization, and has become an influential youth voice representing California’s students in the most pressing conversations on education policy.
Alvin also serves as a member of the California100 Commission, a project incubated by Stanford University and UC Berkeley that will help advance and develop our vision and strategy for California’s next century. He is also a founding member of the California Department of Education’s first Youth Advisory Council, where students utilize youth voice to shape education-policy affecting all of California’s 6.3 million public school students. Alvin is also a co-founder of the California Student Board Member Association.
Jewelian Johnson grew up in Fairfield, a mid-sized town in the Central Valley in a household plagued by systemic barriers and graduated from California High School. After, Jewelian came to Stockton and was embraced by a community at San Joaquin Delta College that allowed him to flourish and get accepted to the University of California, Berkeley to major in African American Studies and Political Science on the Pre-Law track.
After moving to Stockton, Jewelian interned under former Mayor Michael Tubbs researching policy, established an ongoing equity committee for Delta College’s student government to continue collaboration with the college’s leadership in pushing for better success metrics, and served in several statewide education committees under the Chancellor’s office for the community college system with a particular focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and basic needs aside from other various issues. Additionally, Jewelian served as a leader with various nonprofit organizations such as the ACLU, Public Health Advocates, and Critical Resistance.
Currently, Jewelian is working through his third year of college while serving as a youth advisor for Allcove mental health service and working to build a collective movement within his city.
Valerie Johnson is the daughter of two public school educators raised in the Inland Empire, a community college and UC Berkeley graduate with a degree in Political Science and Public Policy, and a current Legislation and Policy Specialist with the Foundation for California Community Colleges. In her work, Valerie leverages state policies and budget opportunities to make positive impact for students at California Community Colleges. She is a former board member of both the Student Senate for California Community Colleges and the UC Student Association, organizations that represent students on over 100 campuses. Valerie is passionate about shaping and understanding policy to create a more equitable future for all Californians. Valerie lives in Oakland and enjoys exploring the beautiful Bay Area in her free time.
Alexander Duarte Jr. is a first-generation low-income college student from Fresno, California. Alexander is passionate about serving underserved communities and addressing issues related to the social determinants of health. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley in Public Health and a minor in Global Poverty and Practice and is a current graduate student at the Yale School of Public Health pursuing a Master of Public Health in Social and Behavioral Sciences with a concentration in Public Health Modeling.
During Alexander’s education at both UC Berkeley and Yale University, he has gained valuable experience working with various communities through research and internships ranging from providing access to community resources, educating communities on numerous public health issues, and assisting in the development of various public health program curriculums. Before beginning graduate school, Alexander took a gap year and worked for Contra Costa County Department of Public Health in various roles in their COVID-19 Case Investigation and Contact Tracing department. Upon completing his master’s degree, Alexander plans to continue his education pursuing either a medical degree or a doctorate in epidemiology with the desire to return back to the Central Valley.
Ashley Morrison is a current Master of Public Policy student at the University of California, San Diego and recent graduate of the University of California, Riverside where she studied political science.
Ashley’s passion for advocacy began with her participation in Planned Parenthood Generation Action, a student organization lead by a mission to broaden knowledge and access to sexual health education and resources, where she later elected to manage the chapter’s community outreach. Most recently she served as intern to Representative Pete Aguilar where she further developed her interest and understanding of our present healthcare policy and its challenges.
As a lifelong resident of the Inland Empire and first-generation American, her other policy interests include community sustainability, affordable housing, immigration reform.
Kate DeMarsh (she/her) is a doctoral student in Environmental Systems at the University of California, Merced. Her research focuses on air pollution and atmospheric chemistry across California’s Central Valley. She also serves as a Community Science Fellow with American Geophysical Union Thriving Earth Exchange working on a community science project in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Previously, Kate worked in collaboration with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado to explore pollutants of Colorado wildfires. Kate holds a bachelor’s degree in Biophysics from Scripps College in Claremont, California and studied Environmental Science of the Arctic at the Denmark International School, Copenhagen. In her free time, Kate enjoys hiking, skiing, and is an avid movie goer. She is excited to be a part of YLAC to explore the connection between the environment, science, higher education and policy.
Stephanie Wong (黃詠賢) is a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley studying towards her double bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Global Studies. She brings five years of nonprofit management, political campaign and government relations experience to the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), where she currently serves as a second-term senator. Representing more than 40,000 undergraduates at UC Berkeley, Stephanie has written legislation to increase risk management practices within student organizations, worked with small businesses, and led successful negotiations with campus administration.
A proud Californian, Stephanie is heavily shaped by her family’s background and movement around the Bay Area. Growing up in a Cantonese-speaking household, she witnessed the importance of language to accessing housing stability, class mobility, and one’s legal rights. This critical life experience has led Stephanie to Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach (APILO), where she uses her language and research skills to connect community members with legal relief.
Stephanie believes that language is an incredibly powerful tool — one that can transcend cultural and racial barriers. She looks forward to centering language in conversations with CA FWD surrounding AA NHPI home ownership, racial justice, and economic mobility.
Ruben Mendoza is a 22-year-old from the Inland Empire currently living in Pomona, California. Ruben has served as the chair of the San Bernardino County Youth Advisory Board and was elected to be the Interagency Council on Homelessness youth representative. In his leisure time, Ruben enjoys being in nature, watching anything sci-fi, playing and watching basketball, and spending time with his dog.
Eric Yang is from San Diego. Because of his immigrant background, he is passionate about making sustainable change and creating equity. Specifically, he is interested in inclusivity, socio-emotional learning and youth voices. Through this, he hopes to build a brighter future for all students, regardless of background. He is heavily involved in his community, from leading food drives as an outreach lead for Peer Counseling to making policy suggestions as a youth advisor to the California Coalition for Youth. In his free time, he likes playing the French horn and making people smile!
Ani Chaglasian is an 18-year-old youth public health activist from Los Angeles, California. She got her break in advocacy work through child abuse/exploitation work after she started a rehabilitation program for youth who were victims of trafficking to finish their schooling. Her policy work focuses primarily on access to vaccines, reproductive healthcare, student autonomy, and child sexual abuse reporting.