Linsao was introduced to CFJ through its Summer Youth Leadership Academy, where he spent seven weeks canvassing, planning events and fundraisers, learning about organizers and talking to policymakers about equitable school funding. When he began his senior year of high school, he worked as a CFJ student intern and became the president of his high school chapter.
“We had about 10 members and met weekly to perform skits and discuss issues around race and inequality at our school. It was very grassroots,” he says.
Linsao’s experiences through CFJ validated his observations of the “glaring inequities faced by students.” This inspired him to pursue teaching as a career, and after graduating from UCLA, he completed his teaching credential at San Jose State University in 2018. “We need teachers who are informed about social issues. I want to be an effective educator for diverse students and fight for equity with everything I do,” he says.
CFJ Organizing Director Rosa De León also grew up in San Jose and discovered her passion for civic engagement as a student at William C. Overfelt High School. She first got involved with the organization through a campaign to get rid of the high school exit exam. “As an English learner, I felt very connected to the issues CFJ was working on,” she says. “The exam felt like a barrier, there was no real support, and as a young person, this was the first time I experienced community power.”
She participated in other local campaigns, and was hired by CFJ as an organizer right out of high school. Today, she has worked with the organization for more than a decade. “We hire a lot of folks from our base,” she says. “We’re committed to their growth.
“We work to include the youth voice in decision-making. Right now one of our key campaigns focuses on building relationship-centered schools,” she explains. The goal is to transform schools in our community into spaces that value and honor student voice, create spaces for relationship building and support school staff so they can better support students.
De León leads the San Jose region’s organizing team and contributes to CFJ’s statewide strategy. “My favorite part of my new role as organizing director is that I get to support our staff to do their best work. I also find a lot of enjoyment in alliance building,” she says.
“I would recommend that any student join CFJ,” says Linsao. “The social-cultural issues they deal with go beyond the classroom. Getting involved early sets you up to be more involved in your community later in life, and more ready to vote. It’s important that students know that their vote counts, and that not only the presidency is important. There are important local and state issues.”
SVCF continues to invest in CFJ’s work because, “They are building a future where every voice matters,” says Mahoney. Californians for Justice’s commitment to developing the leadership of young people like Linsao in San Jose and across the state becomes a vehicle for youth to also move their peers, families and neighbors into civic leadership.