Empowering Young Californians Takes Center Stage at 2023 Summit Event

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Young Leaders Advisory Council Co-Chair Valerie Johnson welcomes attendees to the Empowering CA’s Future event Tuesday (Photo: John Guenther/CA FWD)

The future of California as reflected in the eyes and voices of young Californians took center stage Tuesday as the week of activities and conversations during the 2023 California Economic Summit kicked off.

CA FWD’s Young Leaders Advisory Council (YLAC) helped open the gatherings around the Summit when the Council hosted on Tuesday the Empowering California’s Future event in Palm Desert.

“Convening with local young leaders and sharing experiences at the YLAC pre-summit event was so uplifting and inspiring. I’m looking forward to bringing these perspectives to the policy strategy sessions at the Economic Summit,” said YLAC Co-Chair Valerie Johnson who welcomed attendees to the gathering.

The event, hosted at the RAP Foundation, spotlighted a group of young leaders from the Coachella Valley region who shared what inspired them to make leaps into their respective roles.

“One of the important things about being a Latina in a leadership position, is the responsibility that I have now to ensure that I create spaces where other Latinas can thrive,” said City of Coachella Councilmember Stephanie Virgen.

Adonis Galarza-Toledo, a board trustee of the Coachella Valley Unified School District, shared how seeing how other areas of the state have more street lights and more access to clean drinking water motivated him when he would come back to his home region.

“All of those things are nonexistent in the eastern Coachella Valley,” said Galarza-Toledo. “I realized that a lot of the things normal to me are not normal. Whenever I saw something wrong, I tried to fix it because if I didn’t fix it, I felt like I was part of the problem. All of those external factors lead me to be here today.”

Moderator and YLAC member Alexander Edgar asked the leaders to give advice to the participants and to share what motivates them as they reflect on their respective positions and the challenges they bring.

“I think that’s what could set us apart from other generations,” said Virgen. “It’s not only about me, and getting to create policy and focusing on my community as a whole. But it’s also ensuring that I’m making space for other women to be in leadership positions. If there’s no room at the table, let’s bring another table then.”

Participants were polled about the policy area that were the most important to them. “Education and workforce” earned the most votes by far, with climate, housing and homeownership, and infrastructure in the next three spots on the list.

The event also featured facilitated policy discussions and the accumulated notes, analysis and strategies generated Tuesday will be presented at the Bring Your Chair to the Table session during the California Economic Summit on Friday. YLAC members and other young leaders, students and professionals will also participate in the 11 working sessions on important topics happening over two days of the Summit.

“Your unique experiences and perspectives are imperative to drive change,” said Virgen. “Know yourself well enough to know what you can bring to the table, and be sure of how that message is being delivered.”


John Guenther

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