The California Endowment Youth Voices For Change Awards

The California Endowment Youth Awards was created to celebrate the long-standing efforts and achievements of youth, youth groups, and youth-empowering organizations throughout California who have inspired their peers and communities while embodying the values of The California Endowment. The awards are given in recognition of young leaders whose actions impact public policies, create innovative models of service, strengthen local institutions, and inspire youth power. This year, six young leaders who have done exceptional work in immigration, education, environmental justice, LGBTQ and gender justice, ending mass incarceration, or inclusive community development received a Voices for Change Award. Bioneers asked the youth awardees a few questions to get a deeper understanding of the motivations and visions they have for their work. 

Education: Mya Edwards-Peña

Grassroots Leader of  Students Deserve

Mya Edwards-Peña is an alumni of Venice High School (Class of 2020); a member of the grassroots community organization, Students Deserve, that is dedicated to making Black Lives Matter in schools. She is the author of her first published poetry chapbook titled “Embracing the Weeds”, published by Project Knucklehead. She is a first year college student at Goucher College, striving to become a Dance Teacher and continues to be a poetry enthusiast. Mya is dedicated to using creativity and advocacy to educate around social justice issues and uplift communities of color. As a leader in Students Deserve, she highlights the transformative power of the arts and has used her creative activism to elevate Black voices, bring attention to school practices that criminalize students of color, and advocate for restorative practices.

What vision do you have for your work? 

“I vision to continue moving and liberating others through my work. I hope to become a dance teacher and have my own dance studio in order to support youth of color in dancing and moving to heal themselves from any traumatic experiences they have had or have experienced. I see myself working with students, being a support system to them by supporting their creativity, and helping them rise above racism and White supremacy.”

Environmental Justice: Kimberly Amaya

Co-founder of Youth in Action (Ya!)

Kimberly Amaya is actively advocating to ensure that her community of Long Beach, California, can live in a safe environment free from toxic pollutants. She has been passionate about protecting the environment since joining the Green Team in middle school and passionate about protecting her community since joining East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice in high school. She helped co-found YA! (Youth in Action) at her high school after learning about the environmental racism her community suffers from. She participated in the Marina Pando Social Justice Research Collaborative on a project focused on how refineries work and their harmful effects on communities. She has also participated in the planning committee for the West Long Beach Bike Toxic Tour that informs community members not only about the various polluting facilities harming the community, but also how the community has been thriving with grassroots organizing and community-based solutions. She is currently at California State University, Long Beach for a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and hopes to work in the renewable energy sector for a future with sustainable development.

Where are you drawing resilience from for your work? 

“I continue my work for my family and the community. Clean air and water should not be something people have to fight for; stories from people in my community and from all around the world motivate me to keep going and hopefully make an impact no matter how small it is.”

What vision do you have for your work? 

“I want to be a part of the process that moves us away from an oil and gas infrastructure and into clean renewable energy. I want to be a part of moving away from a capitalist system into a regenerative system and connecting back to our ancestral roots (decolonizing our way of thinking). I want to live in a healthy, happy, green environment. I do it for future generations and for the people in my life now.”

Immigration: Jennifer Lico

Youth Leader at Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) 

 Jennifer Lico is a 16-year-old student and activist who works to defend the human and civil rights of immigrants, ensure social and economic justice, and promote cultural diversity in Los Angeles and across the state of California. She is a leading youth voice at the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) where she explores creative, community led approaches to supporting immigrant communities and simultaneously advocates for impactful state-level policies. With family from El Salvador and Mexico, she hopes to inspire others to raise their voices for others.

Where are you drawing resilience from for your work? 

I love to know that I am helping people in any way that I can. I know that there are people, such as the migrants that are locked up in cages at the border, who can’t fight for themselves at the moment so I try my best to do what I can in order to fight for their justice and freedom. I am happy to know that I am doing something good with the privilege I have of living in the US.”

What vision do you have for your work? 

The vision that I have for my work is to get other people involved in it, especially students my age. I began working with a non-profit community at CARECEN when I was in 6th grade. I wish to see many other students who come after me to be passionate about fighting for others.”

Inclusive Community Development: Bernadette Lim

Founder of Freedom Community Clinic and the Institute for Healing and Justice in Medicine

Bernadette Lim is a community activist, healer, and daughter of Filipinx and Toisanese immigrants. She is the founder and a core organizer of the Freedom Community Clinic, a grassroots initiative that has provided free whole-person healing services combining the strengths of Western medicine and ancestral/holistic healing to 1,500+ people in the Bay Area and beyond, particularly people of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities. She is also the co-founder of the Institute for Healing and Justice in Medicine, creator and host of the Woke WOC Docs podcast, and founder of the Freedom School for Intersectional Medicine and Health Justice. By day, she is a third year at UCSF School of Medicine and recently earned her Masters at UC Berkeley School of Public Health through the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program. She graduated from Harvard University in 2016 with cum laude honors. In the future, Bernadette aims to continue expanding whole-person healing for under-resourced communities through holistic healing and primary care.

Where are you drawing resilience from for your work? 

 “I am rooted in the strength of my loved ones, ancestors, and generations before me who have fought for the freedoms I live and breathe everyday. I also take a good amount of time to heal, rest, and care for myself as a revolutionary act in the midst of capitalist systems that seek to only see my value through the lens of labor and non-stop grind. As I take care of myself, I clearly realize that our future must be one that is rooted in joy and community, so I do my best to embody that as much as I can.”

What vision do you have for your work? 

“I vision creating a community health movement that creates accessible, whole-person healing spaces led by and for Black, Indigenous, and Brown communities that combine the strengths of ancestral/Indigenous/holistic healing with the strengths of Western medicine. I work towards a future where each person affirms that rest and community healing is part of protest and revolution. Ultimately,  I vision and work towards a world where each person is cared for, affirmed, and loved.”

LGBTQ & Gender Justice: Chiqui Diaz (Photo)

Board Member of Beyond Differences, Social Justice Fellow at the Spahr Center

Chiqui Diaz is a youth activist and a high school sophomore from San Rafael, California. She has always been passionate about social justice, and has been very active in her community since middle school. Chiqui is a teen board member of Beyond Differences, a youth led social justice movement working to end social isolation. She is also a social justice fellow at the Spahr Center, a Marin agency dedicated to advocating for the needs of the LGBTQ+ community and people living with HIV/AIDS. She is a strong believer in the power of storytelling, empathy, and youth voice, and she is very passionate about LGBTQ+ and all human rights.

Where are you drawing resilience from for your work? 

“For my work, I draw resilience from  the supportive community of my loving friends and family, the strong community of other amazing activists fighting for systemic change, and the incredible community of other LGBTQ+ folks that I am so grateful to be a part of. The work that I do is not easy work. Change comes slow, and sometimes it feels like we are losing more than we are winning. It is so easy to give up and lose hope. At the end of the day, though, hope is all that we have. I have hope in humanity, and when I feel like that that hope is slipping away, I turn to my community. My incredible community full of kind, strong, and extraordinary people that help strengthen my hope every single day. It is because of community that I do this work, and it is in community that I find resilience.” 

What vision do you have for your work? 

“My vision for my work, on a broad level, is to abolish systemic oppression. I dream of a world where society places no limits or norms on LGBTQ+ folks or any other marginalized person, where they are not only free to thrive as their authentic selves, but they are celebrated for it in all aspects of life. I dream of a world where queer joy flourishes and greatly outweighs queer oppression. I know, however, that we are far away from this goal. It is not lost on me that the day that I found out I had received the Youth Voices for Change Award was the same day that Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court. With this in mind, I have another hope. I hope that we can reach a point where it is not only the marginalized who are fighting for an end to systemic oppression, but those who hold the power and the privilege of the dominant identity as well. I hope that those with privilege recognize the importance of this work and make an effort to actively participate and fight for the rights of others. Because until all of us are truly equal, none of us are truly free.”

Ending Mass Incarceration: Peter Elias

Youth leader with Fathers & Families of San Joaquin

Peter Elias is committed to dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, closing youth prisons, and elevating youth justice. Growing up on the East Side of Stockton, CA—a community notorious for being over policed and under resourced—Peter’s lived experiences have made him a warrior for change. From mentoring other youth to organizing in his community of Stockton to being an instrumental voice in front of legislators, Peter continues to be an agent of change and youth leader with Fathers & Families of San Joaquin. Through his work with the organization, Peter met Brandon Harrison who galvanized him to step up for himself and others.

What vision do you have for your work? 

“My vision for my work to be able to guide youth in the right direction and not into the system also to dismantle the school to prison pipeline.”

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