By Jesus Dominguez
Photo by Claudia Gonzalez
I recently had the honor of participating in a trip to Washington D.C. to meet with legislators and organizers working around issues of social justice and equity. The five-day adventure left a lasting impression on me and instilled in me leadership and advocacy skills I will use for the rest of my life.
Our group consisted of eight young men of color and five adult allies from Boys and Men of Color (BMoC) and Building Healthy Communities (BHC) in Merced and Fresno. Although I met some of them the day we were departing, we immediately bonded over the passion we share to help and better our community.
On our second day in D.C., we met with a group from the nonprofit organization PolicyLink for a training session on advocacy and the importance of achieving equity. During the workshop we heard from individuals who are leading the work in this field in preparation for our own meeting with legislators later on in the week.
Some of the issues we advocated for included health access for undocumented people, immigration reform and youth investment. That last one is critical in Merced, where city leaders seem to have forgotten the youth and have completely underfunded opportunities and resources for them to prosper.
Youth make up half the population of Merced County. Developing their leadership skills and giving them the right tools can make a positive impact on the landscape of our city. They should not be forgotten or ignored.
The highlight of the trip was meeting with U.S. Representative Jim Costa (D-CA 16th District) and Executive Director of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) Krystal Ka’ai, who stressed that the most effective means of social and political change is through civic engagement and voting.
Her statement made me realize that as a young person, I do in fact have the power to change the status quo, and that it is our responsibility to use this right to bring change in our communities.
Representative Costa also had some words for us. “Never forget where you come from,” he said. His message resonated with me because it is my love for my community that fuels me to be engaged.