On Saturday, October 20th, the California Endowment held their very first TCE Youth Awards at their headquarters in Los Angeles.  Young people from all across California convened to be recognized for the work they are doing in their communities. From changing policies regarding foster youth, advocating for a healthy air quality, fighting to end racist random searches in high schools, or pre-registering over 500 youth to vote, these exceptional youth were recognized for their incredible work in front of an audience of several hundred from all across the country.

The California Endowment, a statewide foundation created in 1996, aims to improve the health of all the residents of California. The TCE Youth Awards recognized youth leaders for doing just that; building healthier communities across the state.

15 youth were presented with individual awards, along with 2 youth-led organizations which received $10,000 each and one youth  receiving the Brandon Harrison Visionary award along with a $15,000 cash prize. The Brandon Harrison Visionary Award was named in honor of an inspiring

Tisha Ortiz, Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour, Bob Bland, and Tamika D. Mallory

 youth leader from Stockton who passed away from gun violence in August of 2017.

The awards ceremony was hosted by the four women behind the National Women’s March in 2016; Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour.

“I am so proud to be in a room of not our future leaders, not tomorrow’s leaders, not someday leaders, I’m talking about the leaders right now,” said Linda Sarsour, the powerful Palestinian-American Muslim civil right activist. “You have given me so much hope, being in this space with you.”  

Sarsour has fought for civils rights by advocating for Black Lives Matter, fighting  against systematic oppression for women and immigrants, and by creating an intersectional movement.

Sacramento’s Yeshahyah Yisrael receiving the Community Champion award

The awards started off with dancing, dinner and dessert, and mingling. Sol Collective, a Sacramento arts and cultural non-profit organization, ran a table for everyone to come and write about the ways in which they heal; supporting Sacramento’s Community Champion winner Yeshahyah Yisrael.

The dancing ended with a blessing ritual and performance led by youth into the awards ceremony.

“We partnered with Dr. Ross and The California Endowment to make sure that authentic youth voice is a part of TCE’s strategy and long term investment in the state of California,” said Christopher Covington, a powerful leader on the President’s Youth Council with the California Endowment. “They are working with their communities; they are building relationships, and they’re moving power as it is and changing policies, and building systems and culture change that we would like to see; for what California is meant to be.”  

President’s Youth Council Chris Covington and the CEO of the California Endowment Dr. Ross

Making sure that youth are being heard, recognized, and praised is all part of the California Endowments values. Often times, youth can feel overlooked and unheard. Creating the very first Youth Awards gave these young people a chance to make even more change in their communities.

“One of the award recipients said that they were glad to get recognized because a lot of times they feel as though, you know, their work goes unnoticed,” said Simon Moore, a student at UCLA and Community Champion Award winner. The Community Champion Award was created to honor the youth that have transformed living spaces in their communities be tackling health issues.

“It is very important to publicize things like this and to let it be known that there are students out there, there are youth in our generation that are advocating,” Moore added.  “I hope it can serve as a very positive message to not just the adults today but the children that are growing up as the new generation.”

 Moore’s focus has been to reduce mental health stigma and he had done just that by visiting middle and high schools to address suicide. He was passionate about the fact that youth are standing up all over California and the nation for marginalized groups that deserve a voice and wishes to “continue the fight.”

“I’ve been on a path, what I believe my life’s purpose is, to teach, to help, to love, to give, to grow,” said the late Brandon Harrison in a video shown during the award ceremony. “Ever since I was young, I’ve wanted to change the world.”  

Harrison worked closely with the California Endowment, joining the President’s Youth Council and fighting to end the schools-to-prison pipeline. The California Endowment’s President’s Youth Council created the Brandon Harrison Award after his death to honor youth who have overcome childhood trauma and have turned their lives around for their communities.

“What if every single one of these youth were actually representing us in office,” asked Bob Bland, one of the awards Emcee’s to the audience of the event. “What if you were elevated to positions of power that were proportionate to the level of your vision the expansiveness of the ideas you’re talking about and the incredible change that you want to make in the state of California?” 

The 2018 TCE Youth Awards put a spotlight on just a few of the young people making a difference in our country today. It is hoped that future events in the years to come can continue this tradition and share even more inspiring voices and stories with regularity.