In this month’s Spotlight installment, we bring you a conversation with Carlos Rodriguez, a youth activist from New York City (born in Queens and raised in the Bronx). Carlos is extremely passionate about empowering and bringing positive social change to his community. Check out a few highlights from our conversation below!
Tell us a little about your journey – what is the cause you care most about and how did you get involved?
I was born in Queens to immigrant parents from Ecuador looking for a better life. We lived in a basement apartment for most of my infancy, and then moved to another apartment in the Bronx. Throughout my time in New York City, poverty was a huge part of my life. I felt at times that my safety was uncertain, and was not always sure I would make it to school or back home. And then, after the 2016 elections, I wondered if I would get stopped – if I wasn’t going to make it back one night. I guess all of this is to say, I’m not just centered on one issue. There are so many issues I care about and am invested in. I’m at the University of Virginia now, and especially being in Charlottesville, I’m investing a lot of my time in racism, colorism, and the lack of education and resources for people of color. That’s where my focus is right now.
For me, my activism direction hasn’t been linear. I never set one issue as my focus because our world and our communities have so much need and are complex in nature.
My group of friends were never really outspoken or vocal about what they needed. When I was growing up, we kind of just sailed through the storm but I always wanted to get involved. I guess I was just a late bloomer and perhaps too scared to put myself out there. Now that I’m at UVA, I’ve realized that my voice and my opinions matter. I’m starting to realize that my voice can make a difference.
What is your earliest memory of activism?
The Climate Strike was a big one for me. Back then, I was in Student Government at Eagle Academy in the Bronx. I remember after the election, a lot of students were adamant about getting more involved. Students wanted to join the Climate Strike, but the school wasn’t allowing it. I realized then that this was serious and we needed to get involved. Our voices needed to be heard. And coming from such a distinguished institution like Eagle, I thought that we should be participating in those strikes. We learned at Eagle that protesting and community involvement has a role in our society, and I wanted our school and our community represented. I understood it was against NYCDOE policy, but as a school representing a mission of change, I thought we should be there too.
Our school ultimately did let those of us who wanted to go to the strike but that experience made me realize more conversation needs to be had. As young people, we need to be more active in our community.
Why do you think it’s important to engage young people in this issue?
We are the future. We are the next in line. We are going to inherit this planet and this society next, and the adults that are running everything are giving it to us really broken and not in our favor. It’s important for us to speak out now, because when we are in positions to take on bigger roles in our society, society is not going to work for us. It’s going to work against us. We need to change it not just for ourselves, but for future generations as well.
I don’t want to live in a world where children are going to be worse off than I have been. I can’t standby and watch the chain of events play out for generations that are yet to come. We can’t let it go on.
Poverty. Education Disparity. Climate Change. These are issues that we need to fix right now.
If you could give SLP students and other young activists one piece of advice, what would it be?
Not everyone starts off by founding their own nonprofit or starting a project from scratch. Just get involved and be a part of the community. From there, you can take what you learn and let that drive you. When you go off to college, you’ll be in a whole new environment and you’ll have an opportunity to get even more engaged in conversations about these issues. Being involved in the community at home is a great way to start that.
I’d also say, always try to go the extra mile. You may not think you’re getting anything back from this kind of work, but you’re learning how to be a leader. You are learning why these issues are important to you, to your family, and your community. You’ll take that with you wherever you go.
Thank you to the International Congress of Youth Voices for helping SLP to reach Carlos! And thank you Carlos for sharing your story.
The International Congress of Youth Voices unites students, ages 16 to 20, from around the world to learn with and from accomplished writers, activists, and elected officials. Founded by author Dave Eggers (co-founder of 826 National) and nonprofit leader Amanda Uhle, the inaugural event took place August 3, 4, and 5, 2018, in San Francisco. Youth delegates came to us from the United States, Iraq, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Syria, Ireland, Australia, Iceland, Burundi, Honduras, Cuba, Denmark, Venezuela, Zambia, and Nepal.
Politics of the world affect young people as much as anyone else, and they have little to no voice as major decisions are made. The Congress was founded as a means to amplify their ideas and energy and to unite young people for a weekend of collaboration. Student delegates are chosen based on their commitment to leadership and social justice and their passion and eloquence as writers. The event is designed to provide a path to leadership for all delegates and represents a continuum from students who have exhibited potential in local writing and tutoring programs to writers and activists who have already made notable achievements at a very young age.