Students from Inland Empire schools pose for a picture at the Southern California Youth Futures Summit at the University of California, Riverside on February 10, 2023.
Students from Inland Empire schools pose for a picture at the Southern California Youth Futures Summit at the University of California, Riverside on February 10, 2023. Credit: Image courtesy of Center for Social Innovation at UC Riverside/California 100

Breanna Reeves |

Ahead of California 100’s first Youth Futures Summit to be held on Mar. 12, 2023 at the West Side Lawn of the state Capitol in Sacramento, the Center for Social Innovation at the School of Public Policy, University of California, Riverside hosted the Southern California Youth Futures Summit on Feb. 10, 2023.

California 100 is a statewide initiative that is focused on developing an equitable and sustainable vision and strategy for the next 100 years in California. The summit called on students to think about how they can take action on issues that impact Inland Empire communities.

The day-long summit welcomed approximately 300 students from high schools across the Inland Empire including Martin Luther King High School, Riverside Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy, San Bernardino High School, Bayside High School and several others. Throughout the conference, students were tasked with envisioning policy recommendations for issues that plague their communities.

Dr. Karthick Ramakrishnan, director of the center, challenged students to create manifestos on visions and solutions to six key issue areas: education, workforce and the creative economy; climate change and the environment; health (mental health and well-being); civic engagement and empowerment; community safety and justice reform; and humane housing and reliable transportation.

“Think of your vision statement like a news headline,” Dr. Ramakrishnan explained. Students were tasked with answering questions about their aspirational futures for California and “wildest dreams” of success to issues they care about the most. “Write a personal headline for your future self.” 

As students texted in their responses, their statements filled the screens in the room with headlines like “A California with no crime” and “Gun violence in California communities down by 75%.”

Local representatives share their stories

Throughout the summit, students engaged in workshops and heard from local representatives about what it takes to make an impact in their own community. Keynote speakers in attendance included Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) and Assembly Members Sabrina Cervantes (D-Riverside) and Corey Jackson (D-Perris).

Assemblymember Corey Jackson addresses students during the Southern California Youth Futures Summit held at the University of Riverside, California on February 10, 2023. “You need to know that you can do it,” Jackson said. “You just have to learn from some of your mistakes.” (Image courtesy of Center for Social Innovation at UC Riverside/California 100).

“I’m the daughter of Mexican immigrants, and so we all have similar stories, similar backgrounds. Our journeys may look a little different, but we all have dreams and aspirations,” Assemblymember Cervantes said. She explained that it is her family stories that inspire her and that she carries with her every day when she goes to Sacramento.

“So, I encourage you to lean in on your story because you’re here today for a reason. I celebrate you all today. I want you to unlock your purpose,” Assemblymember Cervantes said. As the first LGBTQ+ women of color to represent her district, she explained how important it is to include more voices and different perspectives in conversations about change.

After Assemblymember Cervantes gave her speech, newly appointed Assemblymember Corey Jackson was welcomed to the stage where he encouraged students to learn from their mistakes and failures. Jackson told students that he lost five elections before he won his first. He made history last November as the first Black openly LGBTQ+ legislator.

“Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to fail,” Jackson emphasized. “Just because you failed doesn’t mean you’re not qualified. Just because you fail doesn’t mean you can’t do it.”

Community-based organizations were also in attendance throughout the summit and provided students with resources on how to get involved in their community and understand what educational resources exist. Local organizations like the BLU Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing educational and civic engagement programs to youth, and Black Voice News’ Mapping Black California, an initiative that utilizes data to identify inequity across all sectors.

Students at the Southern California Youth Futures Summit brainstorm solutions for six issue areas during a visioning exercise at University of California, Riverside on February 10, 2023. (Images by Breanna Reeves).

Visioning the future

As the day progressed, students interacted in several workshops and presentations that challenged them to think critically and identify solutions to their problems using their own lived experiences.

During one visioning exercise, students were put into groups and brainstormed solutions for the six key issue areas. Using large post-it pages, they worked together to develop solutions for the future such as: “free counseling for K through 12 [students],” “defund the police,” “lower greenhouse gases” and “abolish suburbia → end urban sprawl!!!”

The summit also hosted a series of workshops across different topics such as voter rights, labor rights and STEM. The STEM workshop was hosted by the UC Riverside chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. The workshop challenged students’ understanding of bias and how technology can play a role in enforcing biases. 

As students exited the workshops, they were given postcards addressed to the governor, pro tem and speaker of the house. On the back of the postcard, students described their visions for California and explained what they would fight for in their communities. California 100 representatives will deliver the cards to the governor to give students the opportunity to have their ideas heard.

Dr. Ramakrishnan invited students to attend the Youth Futures Summit in March to engage with local leaders and other “young futurists.” The event is free to attend and will include a variety of activities such as art installations and sculptures, creating personal ‘zines, musicians and other workshops.

Breanna Reeves

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at or via twitter @_breereeves.