Edna Chavez Is the Voice of a New Generation of Changemakers

On the brink of the 2016 election, Edna Chavez decided she’d had enough — it was time to fight for what was most important to her: the lives of her friends and family. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, Chavez has lost many loved ones to gun violence and has seen too many people affected by hateful immigration laws, including her father.

Now 18 years old and an entering freshman at Cal State LA, Chavez is a leading youth activist and a passionate supporter of gun control. She was a key participant in the March for Our Lives and works tirelessly as a student voter registration organizer. Her conviction and willingness to speak for herself and other youth who crave meaningful change have pushed her to the forefront of a generation willing to fight for what they believe in.

In her passionate Bioneers 2018 keynote address, Chavez shares how the pain in her life and the life of her peers have served as motivation. She calls on the older generations and those in office to create room for youth leaders to help move us toward a better tomorrow.

Watch the full version of her keynote address here.

View more keynotes, transcripts, and more from the 2018 Bioneers Conference.

Edna Chavez:

I am from South Central Los Angeles — El Sur de Los Angeles. I am a youth leader, and I am also a survivor. I help students to develop their leadership skills in order to push for policy change, including demanding educational equity in our community.

Growing up in South Central, you face many struggles within yourself and within your community. Watching your parents work day and night, worrying about rent, seeing loved ones go to jail, being scared going to and from school because you might get pressed, shot at, and even harassed. Feeling helpless when your friends get criminalized for taking pepper spray to school for protection – and having teachers and counselors that don’t understand – is why all of this makes it so hard to focus on school.

Everything becomes normal. Generation to generation, you get stuck in that mentality where you’re okay with your struggles. Yet the more stories you hear, the more frustrated you become, the more angry you become. You want to make and see change, and start utilizing your voice to let policymakers know what’s up.

I am here to raise my voice. We are here to raise our voices.

It’s time for a change. Youth are here to help lead the way so we can create a new story, stories of progress and success to improve social, political, and economic conditions in South LA and all communities alike.

Fear kept me from sharing my story until I became a youth leader at Community Coalition. A door suddenly opened for me when Community Coalition helped me to find my power and get involved to impact policies that negatively affect black and brown youth. It was actually a very interesting time for me. I got involved during the 2016 elections, so you can imagine how that went.

I hit the floor running for voter registration. I was door knocking weeks before the election and the day of. It was 7pm and I was asking: “Did you go vote? You’ve still got one more hour, make sure you go vote.”

And it was then, after the election, that my whole world shattered — just like many of my peers — from policies that impacted us, policies that impacted our family, policies that impacted my father, leading to him having to leave us due to his legal status, not by choice, but because of how the system works.

I was 16 years old when I lost my father to immigration. Years before that, I always asked my mother, “Why isn’t Daddy here?” But because of him, I started creating Know Your Rights workshops, making sure that no family member has to leave their family ever again due to their legal status, because we are human. We are family. We are power. We are strength.

I have lived in South LA my entire life, and have lost many loved ones, whether it’s because of their legal status or to gun violence. I have fled from gun violence. When I spoke at the anti-gun rally March for Our Lives in Washington, DC, I was nervous, but also I knew I stood with students and survivors of gun violence from Parkland, Chicago, Detroit, South LA, and all around the country. We shared our stories to make change because we realized enough is enough.

We want more. We want better. We deserve better. Like Dr. King said, “Justice delayed is justice denied” — and we want justice now.

I realize that it’s so important to voice our opinions as young people because we have the power, we know the injustices that affect us and what we want to see for ourselves, our schools, and our communities. We are the ones living it, and so we know better. What I want, what my community wants, what we all want is more restorative justice, resources, funds, programs, mental health programs, jobs, and more. We need to focus on changing the underlying conditions that foster violence and trauma in the first place, and that’s how we will transform our communities and uplift our voices.

It is important for us to continue fighting for these changes, get this message out to people in South LA and across the nation. We must keep the momentum for the changes called for at March for Our Lives and in our daily work with our organizations. We are a movement, and we will not only be heard, but we will create change because we are that change.

We’ve been ignored far too long, and for the first time in many years, all eyes are on us. People need to understand that they need to listen to us. This is our moment as young people, as black and brown youth leaders, to use our voices, to be more inclusive in these conversations, to share our stories, to reclaim our power, and most importantly, to hold policymakers accountable and demand they invest in young people and organizations that are creating spaces for young people to lead.

There will be victories and there will be losses, but we need to continue pushing and continue fighting. We will live in peace and joy. Our time is now. Let’s call on the spirit of our ancestors and the power of our communities to empower us and guide us to a better and brighter future, because those in power need to remember we are the future. Gracias y bendiciones.

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