By Crystal Rivera
Photo by Claudia J. Gonzalez
A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Free Our Dreams Youth Organizing Summit at UC Davis, a yearly youth trip put together by The California Endowment. The name of this summit does not do any justice to what I really experienced. There were 400 youth who attended and we did more than just ‘free our dreams’. We were able to unravel stigmas, break the silence on injustices impacting our communities, but most importantly, tell our own stories.
Traveling two hours on a bus to meet youth from all over California was worth every minute. Each organization came to the summit with the purpose of raising our voices, and to share our many issues with legislative leaders, something that most likely would have never happened if it weren’t for the support of the California Endowment. After that weekend, I came back realizing that communities share similarities yet they also face very unique problems. The youth also share a lot of similarities, yet each of us is special.
I admit that I always felt as though I was alone, and that nobody could relate to what I went through. But I was wrong. I may be unique but my story is similar to to other young people just like me. It took me 17 years to speak up about my sexual abuse. And sharing my story and listening to others told their stories that weekend at UC Davis was enough proof to me that I was not alone.
The summit was filled with workshops. Each of us chose to attend workshops that spoke to us the most. I was given the opportunity to take part in a workshop that had a great panel of youth who were involved in youth media and who talked about the importance of storytelling.
I also spoke about the importance of storytelling. Being able to share my story and finally come out of the shadows of shame has finally led me to my healing. Prior to this panel, I never told a single soul about the sexual abuse that I went through when I was five years old.
Being able to stand in front of a large group of people and share my story has forever changed me. I would have never imagined that I would be able to find the courage in myself to speak up.
After I spoke on the panel a 15 year old girl thanked me for speaking up. There were many girls who still remain in silence, grieving in pain, she said, and have not been able to heal. She identified herself as one of them. I don’t want for her to be like me and wait so long to tell her story. I don’t want that for anyone. Living 17 years in silence and in pain is not something any child or adolescent should ever have to face, especially alone. I once tried to make everyone else happy but I was living in pain. I no longer want to be that girl. I want to make all the other girls who are dealing with their pain to come out of the shadows of shame and free themselves. This young girl will forever resonate with me by telling me that because of the story I told, she wanted to finally tell hers.
But she also helped me. She provided the answer to the question I had for so many years: “Am I alone?” If it weren’t for her, and for the youth summit, I would have never received the answer.
All the stories that were told proved to each and everyone of us who attended the youth summit that we were not alone. I am not alone. You are not alone. We are not alone.