Youth Empowerment Summit Encourages Engagement And Awareness

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Project R.A.C.E. youth volunteer assisted two West African acrobats. Photo by Arin McKenna/ValleyDailyPost.com

Youth Empowerment Summit Encourages Engagement And Awareness

The message of Friday’s third annual Youth Empowerment- “Our Voices Matter” Youth Summit, held at the Española Valley High School gymnasium, could be summed up as “You matter.”

“I want you guys to understand something. You guys are light. You guys are beautiful. You guys have your own souls,” said Aaron Martinez, who shared his own story of overcoming adversity. “Each and every one of you is special and different tin your own way, whether you guys believe it or not.”

The summit was supported by the mayor’s initiative to help end violence, the City of Española Project R.A.C.E. (Rio Arriba Community Empowerment) Program, Espanola Youth Leaders, Moving Arts Espanola, Española Public Schools, local law enforcement and fire department.

The Youth Empowerment Summits encourage community engagement and awareness. The event included resource booths with information to help aid youth and presentations from law enforcement and fire department representatives and performing artists. Project R.A.C.E.’s Administrative Assistant Miranda Lopez and Student Outreach Coordinator Justine Valencia emceed the event, with Martinez introducing the performers.

Performers and officials alike reinforced the summit’s theme.

“I just want you to know that no matter who you are or what you do, there’s always somebody out there who respects you, and there’s always going to be somebody out there that wants to see you shine, that wants to see you be great, and that’s me,” said musician and slam poet Zavier Thompson. “If not anybody else in this world wants to see you be great, I want to see you be great.”

“I want to encourage you guys, whatever you’re passionate about, whatever gets that fire going, really seek it. chase it. Chase it good,” said guitarist Josiah Reyes. “The journey of following your dreams and your passions takes you on the coolest road that you could ever imagine. So chase what you love to do. It’s super awesome.”

Representatives from the Española police and fire departments and the Rio Arriba County sheriff’s department stressed that the youth attending the summit are future leaders, capable of making a difference in the community. They also voiced their willingness to support the teens.

“Whenever you guys need someone to talk to, everyone up here has a set of ears that will sit down and listen to you,” said Rio Arriba County Sheriff Randy Sanchez.

Martinez, a graduate of Española Valley High school, used his own story to encourage the teens to overcome their challenges. He talked about growing up in a home afflicted with drugs, alcohol and violence and leaving that home at 16 to escape that. Martinez lost his father and older sister to opioid overdoses and experienced homelessness.

“And I want you guys to know that it doesn’t matter what you guys are going through. It doesn’t matter. You guys can overcome it. because I overcame it…I want you guys to understand that if you guys are going through something bad, whether you lost a family member or something bad has just happened in your family, I want you guys to understand that you don’t have to turn to anything to feel better, to have support,” Martinez said. “There’s people you can talk to, places you can go for support.”

Martinez called himself a “troublemaker” who ditched classed and homework until “I found something that gave me the courage to graduate, to do my work, to get me to class, and that was sports. It was the love of competition, the love of going to the other schools and beating them, showing them what Española’s all about.”

Martinez encouraged the teens to find their own path to making things better.

“Aren’t you guys tired of everyone saying, Española’s a bad place, there’s nothing but this, nothing but that here?” Martinez asked. “You guys want that to stop? It starts with you guys. It starts with you guys. You guys matter. And if nobody’s told you, I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you.”

After the “ice-breaker” trained local youth volunteers facilitated small breakout sessions that asked for teen input on issues in schools, personal life and the community. Moving Arts Española artistic director and co-founder Roger Montoya and the volunteers demonstrated how the sessions would operate. They encouraged the teens to participate by answering questions such as, “If you could be in the perfect school, what would it look like?”

Montoya was greeted with silence when he asked the assembled youth to respond to the question, “How could we have prevented Cameron (Martinez) from being shot?”

“I understand this level of uncomfortability,” Montoya said. “But it’s super important that when we break into small groups that you take a risk. Have the courage to answer the questions and offer something to the small group.”

Throughout the event, the youth were reminded again and again that they matter.

“You guys don’t understand how much beauty we have in this community, guys, and one of those beauties is you. Remember that, guys: one of those beauties is you,” Martinez said. “In this community we have so many artists, so many athletes, so many, so many. You guys are awesome. You guys are the future.”

For more information on Project R.A.C.E., go to www.cityofespanola.org/264/Project-RACE or call 505-747-6015.

Española Valley High School graduate Aaron Martinez shared his own story of overcoming adversity. Photo by Arin McKenna/ValleyDailyPost.com

Moving Arts Española artistic director and co-founder Roger Montoya and the volunteers demonstrate how the sessions will operate. Photo by Arin McKenna/ValleyDailyPost.com

Project R.A.C.E.’s Student Outreach Coordinator Justine Valencia, Administrative Assistant Miranda Lopez and Mayor Javier E. Sanchez opened the Youth Empowerment- “Our Voices Matter” Youth Summit. Photo by Arin McKenna/ValleyDailyPost.com

Musician and slam poet Zavier Thompson performed two songs at the summit. Photo by Arin McKenna/ValleyDailyPost.com

Representatives from the Española police and fire departments and the Rio Arriba County sheriff’s department let the teens know they are always willing to listen. Photo by Arin McKenna/ValleyDailyPost.com

Rio Arriba County Sheriff Randy Sanchez told the assembly “We want you to succeed, every single one of us up here, Deputy Steel (the department’s patrol dog) included, wants you guys to be the best you can be and do everything that you can.” Photo by Arin McKenna/ValleyDailyPost.com

Project R.A.C.E. youth volunteers facilitated small breakout sessions that asked for teen input on issues in schools, personal life and the community. Photo by Arin McKenna/ValleyDailyPost.com

The summit included a performance by two West African acrobats. Photo by Arin McKenna/ValleyDailyPost.com

Photo by Arin McKenna/ValleyDailyPost.com

Photo by Arin McKenna/ValleyDailyPost.com

Moving Arts Española artistic director and co-founder Roger Montoya explains how the breakout sessions will work. Photo by Arin McKenna/ValleyDailyPost.com

Guitarist Josiah Reyes encouraged the teens to chase their passions. Photo by Arin McKenna/ValleyDailyPost.com

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