This Saturday, five young leaders from Santa Monica will be speaking at the California Youth Leadership Summit, sharing their vision for global cooperation on the biggest issues of the day.
The online event is organized by the Sister Cities International Southern California Chapter in lieu of their annual in-person conference and is open to students living in California’s 356 sister cities across the world.
Out of over 80 applicants, the five Santa Monica speakers were chosen to present on panels discussing sustainability, international cooperation, racial and gender equity, and coping with the pandemic to a global audience of around 2,500 youths.
The task may seem daunting, but these students are fired up and ready to go.
“Our generation has a much more global perspective and is more worldly because we have grown up with access to social media and the internet,” said Meaza Light-Orr, a student at Crossroads School. “I think that fosters a sense of compassion and empathy if presented right. Having access to the rest of the world pushes you to get invested in work that benefits the rest of the world.”
Light-Orr will be speaking on the World Peace and Cooperation panel sharing her experiences as an immigrant from Ethiopia and her work for the Minnesota based non-profit organization Tesfa that runs schools in underserved areas of Ethiopia.
“Having the fortune of coming to America, I really value the privilege that I have. I owe it to the world that has helped me to better the world,” said Light-Orr. “I really see the value of strong international ties, because without them I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Samohi graduate and current UC Berkeley student Sam Grossman will also speak on the World Peace and Cooperation panel, which is moderated by the City of Los Angeles Deputy Mayor of International Affairs — an excellent connection for young adults interested in diplomatic careers.
“The other panelists and I all have something unique to contribute and I think we all hope to inspire people to continue growing and cultivate an understanding of other cultures,” said Grossman. “Having such a diverse group of panelists often means having a diverse array of opinions and approaches to answering questions.”
Santa Monica College student Pearl Koven will be speaking on the Sustainability and Climate Change panel, sharing her experiences as a local environmental activist.
Koven has served as a leader for the SMC Student Sustainability Workshop and helped lead composting and gardening initiatives in her home community of Silverlake.
“We need all communities to feel inspired, encouraged, educated and supported to find proper solutions to divert from fossil fuels,” said Koven. “I think that if we use diplomacy and sustainability together we can really put a dent in our carbon emissions, and this needs to happen globally.”
The summit is unique in that it places young people’s voices front and center, precisely because they are the generation inheriting today’s most pressing global issues.
While there will be adult experts monitoring the panels and providing their insights, the students will be leading the conversation and speaking directly to other students.
Alana Basmajian, a senior at Santa Monica High School will present on the Coping During the Pandemic panel.
“I wanted to apply to be a panelist because I fully support the message of it — having youth educate, lead, and inspire other youth,” said Basmajian. “I think it is a super powerful way to communicate with others and I really wanted to be part of that message.”
For the past year Basmajian has been working as a Teen Advisor on the Teen Talk app, counseling young people around the world who are struggling with mental health, substance use, and social and relationship issues.
Fellow Samohi student Victoria Jonsson is also a featured panelist. Jonsson will be speaking on the Gender and Racial Equity panel, sharing her passion for computer programming and medical research.
“I often feel out of place in my stem-based classes and clubs, as I am typically one of very few, if not the only, girl,” said Jonsson. “I hope to be an active voice in changing that narrative by encouraging girls globally not to feel limited by their gender and take risks.”
The summit will be livestreamed on Saturday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and registration is open at www.californiasummit.org.
“So far we’ve had over 2,500 kids register to attend or step up to be a panelist. They have something to say and they’re not saying it to adults, they’re going to say it amongst themselves,” said SoCal Sister Cities Board Vice-President Jeff Jarow. “I get emotional when I think about that kind of energy. It’s really important to pass the baton to the younger generation.”