Updated: Feb 1
By Ariel Alvarez
My siblings and I learned about the Youth Advocacy Council through a friend who knew our mom was a teen parent. It was really special for him to introduce us to a program that centered on things we’d lived through. YAC discusses sexual health in such an open and inclusive manner that, for the first time, I did not feel “othered” by my childhood. It was important to me to talk about growing up with a single teen parent in San Antonio’s westside - not only the challenges we faced but also the triumphs that teen mothers are able to achieve despite them.
Through YAC, I developed my entire identity as an advocate. The Healthy Futures mentors taught us that we were already advocates who just needed safe spaces to hold conversations about the problems within our communities. They highlighted our importance as stakeholders and worked with us to build a platform for people to hear us and offer materials, support, and resources to help us come face-to-face with both those who are directly affected by sexual health issues and those in power with the tools to make real change.
One thing I will always remember is that none of my mentors ever made me feel unsafe or like I did not belong. The mentors have always supported our ideas. They pushed for us to speak with representatives on Advocacy Day in Austin, introduced us to teen mothers who were passionate about their rights, connected us to local organizations like the San Antonio AIDS Foundation, Rape Crisis Center, and many, many others. I’m thankful for the platform that Healthy Futures gave me to speak my truth and share my story.
I feel like it’s important for young people to learn advocacy skills because they can be used in multifaceted ways. Young people can practice advocacy every day for anything they believe in. I am so comfortable with my stance because I’ve been around other advocates and learned that we always intersect. It’s very important to remember that our advocacy affects so much more than the individual and we have to be seeking changes that benefit us all in the best ways possible. I hope new YAC members understand the gravity of the community knowledge they will learn and discuss in meetings.
YAC led me to my career and wanting to be a sociologist. I needed to understand the connections between what I was feeling in my world and how things could be made better through advocating for change. Escapism is a real feeling for many underserved, young students. I constantly battled with thoughts of abandoning my community - going out-of-state or out-of-city to college felt like a way for me to be away from my neighborhood which was painful to watch and live through. This city is full of culture but is also riddled with inequity and inequality.
Advocacy doesn’t stop after high school. In college, I continued to seek advocacy opportunities and learned about a new organization: The San Antonio Youth Scholars Collective. SAYSC is a network of college students who open conversations about the issues San Antonio youth experience. SAYSC offers resources, a safe space for conversations, and a network for middle or high school students from some of the most underserved districts. Each week, we center around different topics proposed through our members. We feature keynote speakers such as local professors, teachers, activists, LGBTQIA+ leaders, and more. We work to create change, ranging from student’s rights, autonomy, public school funding, and the opportunities and resources that all students deserve, regardless of their zip code.
I wanted to be a part of SAYSC because I believe we offer something that many young people don’t get: interaction with older students who come from their own neighborhoods and who understand what it means to navigate communities that are designed to keep them in the dark about inequity and inequality. It’s also really important to me to let young people know that advocacy is a skill that they already have that can create solidarity and opportunity in our communities. YAC was central to understanding that these programs do exist, do believe in our experiences, and are dedicated to gathering data, doing research on current bills, politics, and movements to propel education and rights.
Serving my community as a college student now feels like an honor - and it also feels necessary. Abandoning my already underserved community - as someone who has a chance at higher education - felt like a huge disservice. My community and I are told that we have “victim mentalities,” but experiencing the lack of sexual health education, lack of college readiness, food deserts, and poverty gave me a huge advantage in understanding the true impacts these issues have on real people. I owe it to the many faces of young women that I see myself in to make San Antonio better for them. It’s imperative that we use our experiences to break down the roots of our oppression and be the pioneers of new pathways for our community to succeed.
Success is the future and the future is hopeful. The future is accessible and equal and puts humanity first. The future is restoring indigenous land and providing complete protections for Black lives, the autonomy of women’s bodies, universal health services, universal education, environmental justice, and clean water and oceans. The future is now. We have so much technology and we are having so many great conversations about what this time means and what we have learned from the past and moving on to an honest reality. The future is pure joy and it’s everything to me because we are fighting to make it possible.
To get involved in SAYSC, young people can follow our Instagram page, @SAYouthscholarscollective, and stay posted for our Zoom meetings hosted every Wednesday at 7:30 pm.
Ariel Alvarez is a proud native of San Antonio's westside, the daughter of an inspirational teen mother, and the older sister to two siblings whom she loves deeply. A student of sociology, Ariel is compelled by identity politics, intersectionality, and institutional theory. When she is not studying, she can be found brushing up on her astrology, vibing in the local music scene, or on the frontlines of social justice issues.