San Bernardino, CA — More than 100 youth from the Inland Empire discussed ideas to address the racial, economic, and social issues prevalent in their communities at the first annual State of the Youth Conference.
Music Changing Lives, the Changing Lives Association and the Institute for Public Strategies hosted and facilitated the free conference on June 23-25, 2022 at the San Bernardino Valley College in San Bernardino, California.
The conference featured workshops and team-building exercises on a variety of topics including civic engagement, policy change, etiquette, career readiness, college pathways, financial literacy, family dynamics, self-sufficiency, nutrition, physical and mental health awareness along with preventing drug and alcohol use among youth.
Josiah Bruny, founder and CEO of Music Changing Lives, created the conference to inspire civically-engaged youth through artivism, a practice which combines activism with creative expression to foster diverse thinking while creating real change and impact.
“We’re teaching young adults how to go out and change the narrative themselves. We already know the data. We know what our action items are. Now we just have to go out and do the work.
The key is to have the youth go back and lead the message and not just to talk at them, but talk with them,” said Bruny.
18-year-old Sheherbano Bano, a junior at the University of California, Berkeley said she decided to attend the conference to learn more on how she can raise mental health awareness especially in communities that are often marginalized and lack resources.
“I have always wanted to help amplify the voices of those who are silenced. I hope to become more civically- involved in decision-making on both local and federal levels,” said Bano. “We need more unification in this community and other communities around us, but it starts with ourselves.”
19-year-old Angel Martin, a senior at Alta Vista Innovation High School in San Bernardino said he is focused on making elected officials, agencies and corporations more accountable to their constituents and customers.
“Silence is violence, if I don’t speak up about these issues they are going to continue to perpetuate and it’s going to come to a point where it’s unbearable,” said Martin.
A panel featuring elected officials, CEOs, artists and activists also offered words of wisdom to the challenge the young attendees to make a difference in their neighborhoods and beyond.
Johna Rivers, founder of the Real to Reel Global Youth Film festival, shared her experience overcoming adversity as a foster youth living in Watts, and as a survivor or sexual abuse.
“Remember that pain becomes your power. The things that we go through can become power or it can be something that hinders us and prevents us from living out our whole potential. Don’t be ashamed of your trauma and where you come from,” said Rivers.
Fifth District San Bernardino County Supervisor Joe Baca Jr. shared ways the youth can make their voices heard beyond just writing letters to their elected officials.
“To move government it’s not easy. You’ve got to be very focused, very diligent and you have to learn how to execute,” said Baca. “Educate yourself and understand how the community works, learn about policy change and how things happen. You can have this pie in the sky idea but you have to understand who’s going to pay for it, who’s going to fund it, who’s going to support it.”
Ronnie Miller, co-founder and CEO of Sista’s Making a Difference, urged the attendees to give back to their communities by forming alliances with other non-profits and social service agencies.
“If you want to make an impact, you have to get those partnerships. You have to get those organizations involved in what you do,” said Miller, who has organized several successful toy and food drives in the Inland Empire. “You have to network. You can’t be shy about it if you want to make a difference in your community.”
At the completion of the conference, all of the participants received a $1,000 scholarship to cover the cost of daily transportation to the event, lunches and a complimentary makeover that provided each attendee with one business-ready outfit that can be worn to job interviews.
Josiah Bruny said he is committed to expanding the conference statewide. Even though the three-day event has come to a conclusion, he said he is committed to providing each attendee with the support of an advisor for ongoing growth and development through a mentorship program.
“I want them to see that we truly believe in them,” said Bruny. “We’re not going to leave their side. We’re actually going to walk them through this, hold their hand and provide them a hand up and not a hand out.”
Youth that attended the conference were encouraged to apply for the mentorship program.
25-year-old Habiba Naqvi just finished graduate school at Cal State Northridge. She said she’s excited about the mentorship program and believes it will help land her first job out of college.
“I now have connections with people who understand where I am coming from, people who can guide me and help me get involved,” said Naqvi. “I have people I can really rely on and that’s not something you can find at other conferences. I am making connections that are more personal.”
Youth interested in applying for the mentorship program can visit: https://www.musicchanginglives.org/soty.