About the Author: Tina Huang is the Program Coordinator for Strategic Speakers and Special Projects in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.Today is a glorious day! / Let's celebrate; / We have a lot to say. / Don't worry about the drinks, / Don't worry about the cake, / We are celebrating, / The action we are going to take.
Let's dance to the sound of peace, / Let's sing the song of liberty, / Let's stop the sadness of fear, / There's a whole world, / That needs to be led.
- Poem written and performed by Ivonne Pelayo (Tijuana, Mexico) and Antonio Peralta (Guanajuato, Mexico)
Jóvenes en Acción, a leadership training and exchange program for Mexican public high school students concluded with this inspiring poem by two program participants. Funded by the Mexican Secretariat of Public Education and the U.S. Department of State in partnership with 16 private organizations, Jóvenes en Acción offers 50 Mexican youth the opportunity to study and develop their leadership skills over a five-week period in the United States.
The students presented their social action projects and spoke passionately about their experiences in Berkeley, California and Washington, D.C. and the ideas for social action that they will bring back to their communities in Mexico. On August 19, they were received at the Department of State by the Mexican Deputy Chief of Mission Mabel Gomez-Oliver and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for North America, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Alex Lee. Each group shared their project proposals and received feedback from a distinguished panel specializing in youth development and social action. The panel included Dr. Donni Leboef, Special Assistant, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the U.S. Department of Justice; Paula Uribe, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs; and Blakeney Vásquez, Regional Cultural Coordinator in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
The projects were not only visionary and youth-led, but also addressed the practical needs of young people and families throughout Mexico. For example, a group from Monterrey introduced JóvenAgente, a program to combat drugs and violence through sports, culture, ecology and recreation. Two students from Mexico City unveiled their vision to be Dream Fighters by training other young people to change their views on drug use while working together to serve the city's historical center. Three other young women from Jalisco shared their commitment to Sana Expresión -- a health program with workshops for at-risk students.
Representatives from both Mexico and the United States expressed pride in the students' far-reaching vision, and enthusiastically supported their efforts to enhance mutual understanding and cooperation and to help their communities. Mexican Deputy Chief of Mission Mabel Gomez-Oliver shared her personal experiences as a former participant in a U.S. exchange program and as a student in the United States. She stressed that the United States and Mexico can work together with young people to ensure a more successful and prosperous future for both countries. In his opening remarks to the group, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for North America Alex Lee said, “You are the leaders for the future of Mexico and the United States, and you bring new ways of looking at our communities. You bring a new level of excitement and energy.”
After their morning of presentations, the fifty young leaders joined Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Ann Stock for a closing reception. Having participated in the opening ceremony of this program in Mexico City, Assistant Secretary Stock was delighted to see the students again and engaged them in a spirited exchange about what they learned, how they viewed the United States, how this experience changed their perspectives and how they will put into action their plans in their communities. She greeted and spoke with every delegate and presented each of them with a letter from First Lady Michelle Obama commending the students for their energy and commitment to take action towards positive change in their communities.
Geovanni Pulido, a student from Michoacan, reaffirmed the hope and promise that these young leaders bring, saying “if you work alone you can be good, but if you work in a team, you can be the best.” Assistant Secretary Stock wrapped up the day's events by reminding the students that, “This is not the end, but only the beginning. When you return home, stay connected with us and each other, work with one other, and keep expanding your networks to make positive change in your communities.”