WPHS Student Emiliano Juarez Proves That You Can Never Be Too Young to Make a Difference
By: Eva Mandelbaum
At 16, WPHS junior Emiliano Juarez has done more advocacy work than most people do in their entire lifetime. He’s a normal high school teen: he participates in many clubs, plays in the school’s Mariachi Band, and loves hanging out with his friends. But in addition to all of this, he is working tirelessly to enact true change at a national level.
Emiliano’s advocacy path all began when his mom signed him up for a program about youth advocacy and social justice called the Westchester County Youth Councils (WCYC) before 6th grade, in 2017. “Not knowing what those terms meant, I did not think that it would be the best fit for me, however, the decision to attend the first meeting paved the way for me to make lasting and impactful change within my community,” he shared. From discussing societal issues including food insecurity with local politicians and state legislatures, the WCYC has given him “leadership, public speaking skills, and the ability to advocate for [himself].”
In November 2021, a few years after joining the WCYC, Emiliano applied to participate in Youth Collaboratory through Citizen University, a Seattle-based organization dedicated to building a culture of powerful, responsible citizenship across the country. He was accepted as one of 21 students from around the United States to participate in this program, which has given him the opportunity to meet with other powerful leaders to discuss and enact true change at both a local and national level.
“The Youth Collaboratory has impacted me in ways that I cannot even describe,” he said. “This year-long experience has truly changed the trajectory of where I am heading, and how I will bring my life-experience into college and the workforce. As I opened my acceptance letter into the Youth Collaboratory on Friday, December 17th, 2021, in my last period class, I was ecstatic. I was so happy that day, and I knew that I would take full advantage of the opportunities that lay ahead for me, however, I would not know that I would have come this far in just one single year. I mention the day I was accepted because it truly made me feel different than anything I had ever experienced before; these people accepted me because I have the potential to do positive things in my life. They gave me the resources and the tools to make that happen.”
Emiliano also became involved in the National Civic Collaboratory (also through Citizen University), a group of civic catalysts from around the country working to make a difference in the communities they serve and to ultimately, build democracy. As a result of this program, he was afforded the opportunity to implement a ‘power project’ within his own community. Partnering with the WCYC and the White Plains Public Library, Emiliano gathered students from across Westchester County to discuss, learn about, and develop a community service project regarding gun violence around the country.
The group met with the policy team at Sandy Hook Promise to learn about ways to educate their own community about gun violence. They also met with Sari Kaufman, a Parkland school survivor, founder of the MyVote Project, and co-organizer of the March for Our Lives Movement. “She gave us important insight to how gun violence has impacted the people around her and how bipartisan support is essential in reforming today's gun laws for curbing the gun violence crisis. Through earlier efforts with the WCYC and speaking with local elected officials for program funding, we were able to secure $10,000 for youth engagement projects, and $20,000 for anti-violence projects in Westchester County,” he explained.
This past July, Emiliano received the opportunity to speak at a Youth Advisory Council for the Reagan Institute Summit on Education in Washington, D.C. as a student panel member. Student speakers gave insight and feedback as youth representatives about the current state of education around the country and in their communities to an audience of adult leaders. During the summit, Emiliano shared his insights on a variety of topics ranging from the impacts of COVID and student mental health to his definition of success.
The summit gave him the opportunity to use his voice to make a true difference. “I’m very glad that I was able to represent first-generation voices on the stage that day as a Hispanic American of Mexican descent. I learned a lot from the panels that day, and I’m so glad I was able to speak in front of such important people who heard my voice and opinion,” he said.
Emiliano partially attributes his success to his parents and family, his biggest inspiration: “As busy as they are, they manage to find time to keep up with everything that I do and are the biggest supporters in my life. Through the hardships they endured as Mexican immigrants, they endured adapting to a new environment and speaking a new language. It is my turn to give back, and to ultimately make them proud. They truly are my biggest inspiration."
In addition to his support system, Emiliano shared that the local and school communities have guided him on his advocacy journey. From the connections he’s made through the WCYC to the high school’s diversity in clubs, he believes that “Simply being involved with one small community gathering can one day spark your interest in other hobbies you may not have known you had.”
As advice to his fellow students and other young change-makers and advocates, he stated, “Get involved with your local youth council, or diversity & equity committees at school. Get out there. Get your name out there. Show demonstrated interest in an advocacy group through writing an email to that advisor/adult. Once you start attending these meetings/groups, you will learn more about not only yourself, but what you may be interested in.”
If we learn anything from this inspiring high schooler, it’s to advocate for yourself and your rights. Start at a local level and see where that leads you. Just reach out. Reach out to leaders in your life, or even reach out to Emiliano himself (his email is firstname.lastname@example.org and he is happy to answer any questions). “Do not think that you cannot network unless you get involved with a program like the Youth Collab,” he noted. “Do it with the people you already know at home, family friends, teachers, and local leaders! Be open-minded and be friendly with others.”