Marguerite Casey Foundation presented 15 young community leaders with the Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty Leadership Award, in honor of their vision, passion and dedication to improving the lives of families in their communities. Each of the honorees received an award of $5,000 in recognition of their leadership.
This is the fifth year that Marguerite Casey Foundation has presented the Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty awards. The award is named for Sargent Shriver, architect of the War on Poverty and visionary leader of Head Start, Peace Corps, Job Corps and VISTA, who worked throughout his life to provide opportunities for people to lift themselves out of poverty.
Each of the 15 Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty has shown resolve and courage in standing up for those who are often neglected by society: the homeless, immigrant families, farmworkers, students. Rather than waiting for change to happen, this year’s honorees are taking action to reform school discipline policies, protect funding for their schools, support early education and make their neighborhoods safer.
Luz Vega-Marquis, CEO and president of Marguerite Casey Foundation, said of the honorees: “These young people are inspirations to us all. Their activism – rooted in their own personal experiences — reminds us that each of us can make a difference by simply standing up for what is right and what is needed in our communities. By stepping up to remake their communities and their world, each of them is carrying on the legacy of Sargent Shriver.”
See a listing of past winners at our website. Learn more about previous Shriver award honorees in the Equal Voice News series America’s Next Leaders.
2016 Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty
Ernesto works with the Center of Neighborhood Leadership. He is also the founder of Safe Schools Now, a campaign to increase school funding and resources so that schools would be able to provide conflict resolution, diversity awareness, and leadership programs. In 2013, after holding a series of community roundtables and a massive voter outreach program, Safe Schools Now was able to secure funding for school safety. Safe Schools Now has trained hundreds of students in board governance and school district funding, and has advocated statewide to increase school safety programs and raise school revenue by eliminating corporate tax breaks.
Nicky Hoang Cao describes himself as “a queer gender fluid femme Vietnamese-American born and raised in New Orleans East, the forever forgotten side of New Orleans.” When he was confronted by a homophobic principal during a ceremony at school, he organized a protest with his friends at school. Later he joined his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance and also began working with BreakOUT, an organization working to end the criminalization of LGBTQ youth in New Orleans. He is active in Youth Quest, VAYLA’s LGBTQ youth program, and the reproductive justice program. Erica Buher, VAYLA’s deputy director, says of Nicky, “Despite the daily hardships and tragedies that happen to Nicky, he remains a sensitive and empathetic person. He organizes and engages with folks with compassion and love.”
Nahiely is a youth volunteer with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and the founder of the anti-crime campaign Strides for Fany. After the murder of her sister, Stephanie “Fany” Gonzalez, Nahiely launched a campaign to reduce criminal activity in her neighborhood of Colonia San Cristobal. She helped to implement a neighborhood watch program, created an annual neighborhood beautification project, “Pintado Sonrisas/Painting Smiles,” and helped organize house meetings. She is also in her third year pursuing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, with a minor in Mexican-American studies, from the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley.
Samantha Herrera, 24
Nominated by: Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network
Samantha is a member of the Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center, which works to protect workers from labor abuses and wage theft. Samantha’s own experience as a domestic worker and a migrant farm worker led her to become an active member. As an organizer, she held collect data through surveys, block walks and interviews to highlight the toxic impact of a chemical company’s abandoned site in Elsa, Texas. She also participated in the 100-mile walk to promote migrant rights, which was timed to coincide with the Pope’s visit to Washington D.C. In addition, Samantha works with a collective called Aqui Estamos for LGBTQIA youth, and helped to organize a two-day conference on issues affecting LGBTQIA people on the border.
Jose, a senior in high school, has been a youth leader with the Southwest Organizing project for three years. He has been in the campaign to end zero tolerance policies for Chicago Public Schools. After years of working with legislators, Illinois passed legislation ending the use of zero tolerance policies in publicly funded schools. The child of Mexican immigrants who became U.S. citizens, Jose has also been active in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform. He participated in a two-day march to end deportations, has participated in rallies to expand DADA, and even helped a DACA workshop in his own high school.
Jathan Melendez has been active with South Central Youth Empowered Through Action (SCYEA), a youth program of Community Coalition, for the past four years. He has led numerous rallies in support of improving curriculums in schools in low-income communities, testified in front of the Los Angeles school board and lobbied both locally and in Sacramento for improvement of conditions affecting young men of color. He is also a national leader with the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color and has led several workshops for the network. He hopes to attend California State University – Los Angeles in the fall and plans to start a mentoring program between men of color in college and students at his high school.
Angel, an undocumented youth, is active with Farmworkers Self-Help, working with the youth program Teen Dream Team and with Dreamer’s Teatro, an actors troupe. He has become very involved in legislative work, helping to advocate for an in-state tuition bill for undocumented students and for expansion of the state’s KidCare program. Angel has also participated for two consecutive years in the Encampment for Citizenship program, which helped him expand his understanding of social justice organizing. Besides his work organizing with Farmworkers Self-Help, he won election as president of the Dade City Youth Council.
Daniel is a youth intern with Communities United for Restorative Justice, which is part of the W. Haywood Burns Institute’s Community Justice Network for Youth. Daniel co-authored a youth research report titled “Forgotten Voices: A Youth Vision for Oakland.” He has also been a powerful advocate on visits to Sacramento . Daniel, who served two years in prison himself, is a powerful advocate for youth like himself, particularly those who have been caught up in the criminal justice system. His supervisor George Galvis calls Daniel “without a doubt and without exaggeration, one of the very finest young men it has been my honor to know.”
Diana has been an active member of TIRRC and their youth group, Jovenes Unidos por un Mejor Presente (JUMP). She has been heavily involved in the implementation of DACA, speaking to undocumented students about options for their future, and in the tuition equality campaign, working to pass a bill to allow undocumented students qualify for in-state tuition for state universities. She is also part of a research team recording the experiences of undocumented immigrant youth in Tennessee, helping to analyze and distribute data. Lindsey Harris says of her: “Diana brings a unique mix of boldness and joy that inspires and captivates those around her, and she is a natural leader.”
Gabby has been an active member of Vietnamese American Young Leaders of New Orleans (VAYLA) for four years and has grown into a “core organizer and a rare leader.” When VAYLA organized a rally against the Republican presidential candidate, Gabby stepped up to lead chants and bring people together. She has worked with other community organizations including the Food Justice collective, where she helped to organize a day of action against Monsanto. She also took part in the Institute of Women Ethnic Studies’ Youth Participation Action Research Project, where she studied youth perspectives on different aspects of racism. Gabby is currently leading a giant mural project to beautify the neighborhood of New Orleans East.
Brittany is an activist with Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). As a student organizer, she helped set up outreach meetings with coalition members and took a leadership role in an event to highlight sexual abuse in the hotel industry. A survivor of sexual assault herself, Brittany is “personally driven to help heal and restore dignity in victims of sexual assault or any type of gendered violence.” She also helped to set up a worker panel at California State University – Long Beach to highlight challenges faced by women in the workplace.
Giovanna has been involved with Parent Voices for over a decade, standing with her family as they fought to save their neighborhood preschool and, later, as they advocated for clean school buses for children with asthma. In 2010, she stood by her mother’s side when she testified in support of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Giovanna learned activism from her mother and, while still in elementary, volunteered on local and state electoral campaigns. In 2014, Giovanna co-emceed Parent Voices’ Stand for Children Day in Spanish. She also serves as a member of the Youth Commission in the City and County of San Francisco, an appointed position, and is the chair of the Housing, Environment, and Services Committee.
Matthew recently completed a yearlong AmeriCorps fellowship for the Choice Program, mentoring disconnected youth and training youth to increase their job readiness skills. During this year, he also helped to launch a program of enrichment activities for youth in the Cherry Hill community of Baltimore where he grew up. The project, called “Cherry Hill Summer Fun,” provides a healthy meal and activities including art, hiking, and games for youth two days a week during the summer months.
Carlos, a former farmworker, has been working with Farmworkers Self-Help (FSH) since 2011. He has been active with the youth program, Team Dream Team, worked on organized rights for farmworkers, and worked with legislators in Tallahassee to support in-state tuition for undocumented students like himself. When the in-state tuition bill passed in 2014, he received a message on Facebook from House Speaker Will Weatherford, saying that Carlos’ advocacy convinced him to support the bill. After graduating from high school, support from FSH’s scholarship fund allowed him to attend St. Leo University, where he graduated in 2015. He hopes to attend graduate school in order to become an attorney.
Kaleyah’s family became homeless in 2012, around the time that the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless was developing their Education Committee, a group of parents, students and teachers fighting for the educational rights of homeless students. She began attending with her mother and soon became one of the most active members of the committee. Besides learning how to advocate for herself and her family to improve their situation, Kaleyah visited Springfield several times to lobby for a fair Illinois budget, and shared her personal story with legislators to encourage them to find support for homeless students and families. She has also testified before the Chicago Board of Education and was featured in a Chicago Sun-Times column about the needs of homeless students in Chicago Public Schools. She is an active member of the CCH Speakers’ Bureau and regularly goes back to the shelter where she once stayed, talking to women and children there about their educational rights.