“If you truly do, deep down in your heart, want to help shape the world into a better place, then FLLA is the first step on your path to that goal. I’ve taken that first step, and am on the same path I hope to see future FLLA Fellows on. This program really has empowered us to stand on the front lines of the fight for a better America and a better future.”
Location: Tucson, AZ, United States
Campus: University of Arizona - Tucson, AZ
Fellowship Class Year: 2007
- Fellow Groups:
- Front Line Leaders Academy
Featured Fellow Spotlight
YP4: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to be involved with Young People For (YP4) and the Front Lines Leaders Academy (FLLA).
I was at the University of Arizona and highly active in that community. One of my advisors, who ran the Leadership and Social Justice Resource Center at UA, nominated me for the program, which sounded like a really fantastic opportunity—a trip to DC, a fellowship, and an opportunity to do more great work—so why not? So I applied, and got accepted, and got to DC and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, just being around hundreds of young, really active, capable competent progressives from all over the country. It was like a recharge for my work.
When you’re out there, especially in a community like Arizona, which is a red state and a little more conservative, it kind of wears on you. You’ve got your allies, but sometimes you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels. Going to DC and meeting these people who were having the same or similar experiences all over the country – it was just a real inspiration. The tools and networking were just fantastic. I still to this day, having participated in a lot of fellowships and with a lot of organizations, haven’t participated in one as well as YP4 did it.
While I was at the summit, the first class of FLLA ran a simulated election. Knowing myself, that I wanted to run for office at some point in the not-to-distant future, I thought, “Wow, that sounds like a really cool program, I wonder how I can get involved?” So I applied and got in. FLLA is the reason that I have the resources, the know-how, and the confidence to run for office. My trainers and the peer network provided by FLLA have been immensely supportive. Working at some of the Young Elected Officials conferences, and having access to young elected officials from across the country to get some of their advice has been tremendously invaluable.
YP4: What do you stand for?
Many things – I’ll resist giving you my campaign platform points, ha ha – if I could really sum it up, it’s about social justice for me. Everything I do is rooted in my passion for social justice and my desire to bring that about for the largest number of people possible in the community. That’s what drives me. My passion about education, about healthcare, about alternative energy and the environment, war and peace policy – everything is rooted in social justice.
YP4: Tell me about the work that you’ve done with Anytown Arizona.
I actually went to Anytown as a delegate the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. I was in a leadership position in an organization that I started with a number of students and counselors at school, called the Human Relations Council (HRC). We had had a number of race- and faith-based divisions and conflicts on campus. So the HRC was founded to address those issues in a proactive way, to promote understanding.
After the first year of this program, our counselors told us about this program called Anytown. They told us, “it’s really well-known, nationwide, it started in Arizona, and you have the opportunity to go this summer leadership program and we think you should go.” So I went, with another member of the leadership from HRC, and had the week of my life. It radically changed my perspective on social justice and the work I could be doing. I really thought that I had it all together, that I was very knowledgeable and cutting-edge with social justice and leadership issues. Granted, I was doing a lot, but it really opened my eyes. After being a delegate, I was a super-volunteer for the organization; I was a counselor, an advisor, and a director years later. So I’d been volunteering for the organization for eight years, and a few years ago – actually as a part of my Blueprint for Social Justice with YP4 – started working with Anytown on the A-TOWN program at UA. I went to them and said, “I’m a part of this amazing network now, and I’m really inspired by all these young people doing amazing things, and I think that if Anytown expanded into the college age range with our leadership and social justice conferences, we would be really hitting a population that has a lot of ability and resources to make positive change in the community.” The director at the time said to me, “I totally agree with you. We’ve never done college programming, so if you can raise the money to do it, then we’ll do the program.”
In early 2009, the position of Executive Director at Anytown opened up, and I thought, “Hey, I think I can do that.” So I applied, and got voted in, and I’ve been serving as Executive Director of this fantastic organization since. While it’s been tough because of the recession, Anytown literally hasn’t seen a better year in decades – in terms of how many kids are going through our programs, the expansions of programs and hiring new staff. Actually, another YP4 and FLLA fellow, is now acting as the Collegiate Program Manager. She’s just doing a stellar job, which is really cool, because it’s stayed within the YP4 family.
YP4: I understand you’re running for the Arizona State House of Representatives; what prompted your decision to run? Can you tell us about your campaign?
I’m a very progressive person – being in YP4 and FLLA really cemented that for me. Being in Arizona, we’re a really moderate state, and we have a real progressive streak in us. We’re not traditionally conservative. That is not reflected in our legislature or our elected leaders. We have some really radically conservative people passing huge cuts to education, the biggest that the state has literally ever seen, and they’re taking children and families off of healthcare. It’s like slash-and-burn tactics. Seeing the negative effects that that values system has had on our state really inspired me to stand up and take the lead. Something that my grandparents said to me, and Barack Obama said repeatedly on the campaign trail is, “we are the leaders that we have been waiting for.” I don’t think that that has been truer at any point in Arizona’s history. We’ve got a whole bunch of people who are kind of waiting for someone to stand up and be the leader. So I said, “I can do that.” It was during the FLLA program when my belief in my ability to really run an effective campaign, and beyond that, to be an effective legislator and representative of the people was solidified. It gave me the launching pad as far as organizing, centering myself in my progressive values, and proposing legislation. FLLA and YP4 were instrumental in that.
YP4: What are your long term goals?
Right now my goal is to knock this election out of the park. The primary is eight months from now and the general election is in ten months, so that’s a short- to mid-term goal. After that, I’ve got two years to really get things moving on important legislation to our state, as far as investing in education and helping students and our young professionals be prepared to go into the workforce, making sure that people have health insurance all over the state, and really getting the green energy and solar economies rolling here in Arizona. Within the next few years, I want to have some major state legislation accomplished. If we can get that done, I think it will have been worth all of the work of running for office. I love non-profit work and politics – I think that they are the two best way for individuals to affect their communities on large scales – so I plan to continue my work in both of them, and I can’t see myself doing one or the other. I think I will be doing this for the rest of my life, and I will love it until the day that I die.
YP4: Is there someone you’ve met or worked with that’s really inspired you?
If I could pinpoint someone who inspired me to the point of not just thinking that I could do this, but knowing that I could, it was (Tallahassee City Commissioner and PFAW Foundation Youth Leadership Programs Director) Andrew Gillum. We had so much in common; we were both involved in student government at the University level, we were really young, going against an older crew. He did it. He ran for office very shortly after graduating from college. And I said if Andrew could do it – and look how awesome he is – maybe I can do this, too. He was a huge inspiration for me, as far as knowing that I could run for office and work in the community at the same time, and be effective at both.
YP4: What is a struggle that you’ve faced or are facing in your work? Do you have advice for people dealing with similar struggles?
I have to say, it’s the youth, it’s experiencing ageism in the professional and the political world. It’s out there, it’s rampant, and it is an obstacle. It’s something that we, as young leaders, absolutely have to deal with. It’s a struggle, fighting against the stereotypes and assumptions of community leaders, political leaders, elected officials. When they look at your face and they see you don’t have gray hair, they just assume that you’re not capable of doing the amazing things that, frankly, YP4 fellows and FLLA fellows are doing every single day. My advice is to hold fast in the knowledge that young people are accomplishing some of the greatest feats that are happening in today’s society. That has to be your center, because you’re going to find a lot of people who don’t believe in you. You need to have that internal source of energy. Look to your fellow young leaders, as well. You will not find a greater and more inexhaustible resource than your peers who are fighting the fight with you and know what you’re going through. Do your best because the more that we do, and the more impressive our work, the less those stereotypes are going to be able to keep hold in the minds of our older counterparts, in the movement and outside of it.
YP4: How can other fellows get involved or find more information about the work you’re doing?
Our websites are probably the most accessible. Check them out for more information. There are ways to volunteer on both of them. Visit Anytown at www.anytownarizona.org. For the campaign, visit www.dustincox2010.com. In this economy, and in this political atmosphere, there is no better time to get involved in either of those or anything that you’re passionate about. It’s really important to put your energy where your heart is, and really get out there and make some change.