“If you really knew me, you would know I care about…” From this space of personal experience and compassion, 34 students from twenty local high schools shared about their concerns for their communities on Thursday, August 3, 2017, at the Asomugha Foundation in Los Angeles. Students addressed problems and possible solutions around the topics of immigration, homelessness, affordable housing, quality education, restorative justice, pollution, and harmful stereotypes of minorities.

Awakening youth voices to positively advocate for their communities is part of the larger framework Sharefest employs to engage students in service and leadership. Public speaking is a common fear and discovering tools and motivations for conquering it early is essential to empowering the valuable resources youth provide in bettering local communities.Through the “point of view” presentation, youth discover their ideas for community restoration are important and that others can benefit from their courage to speak up. This exercise is an essential element of shifting both internal and external stereotypes that marginalize youth from being a part of the solutions communities need to flourish.

The Voices of Hope luncheon is the culminating event for the 10th and 11th grade students’ Summer Youth Development Academy (S-YDA) Leadership class. This year’s S-YDA theme, Agents of Change, helped students explore social justice issue and equipped them with the five habits of a change agent: courage, compassion, critical thinking, cooperation, and commitment. 80 guests joined for lunch to listen to the students’ presentations, including parents, principals, teachers, business leaders, community advocates, and government dignitaries. At the conclusion of the event, Gabriela Medina, District Director for Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragan (CA 44th Congressional District), exhorted the students, “Keep speaking! Our communities need you.” Also in attendance was Manny Lopez (Mayor Garcetti’s Office) and Victor Ibarra (Assemblymember Mike Gipson’s Office). Students received certificates from both Barragan and Gipson’s office in recognition for their community advocacy.