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Youth Leader Spotlight with Leo Rodriguez

Leo Rodriguez graduated in 2018 and is now a first-year student at East Los Angeles Community College in California, where he is studying communications. ShotlightHe hopes to complete his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and come back to his community as a counselor to help other students attend college.  

“I want to help the people in my community demonstrate that regardless of where we come from or the disadvantages we face, we are able to achieve our dreams if we just keep working hard,” he said.

America’s Promise talked to Rodriguez about what inspired him to get involved with his community, the caring adult who impacted his life the most, and what advice he would offer other adults working with young people. Take a look at what he had to say below. 

What inspired you to get involve in your community? 

By far the most significant thing that inspired me to get involved with my community is being labeled as a minority in this country. Being considered a minority has many internal and external problems. 

As a Hispanic person, you are seen with a sense of inferiority, therefore not many people really care about what happens to you in this society. We are constantly being dehumanized, which creates barriers that may prevent you from reaching your fullest potential. Especially in this political climate, it is really difficult to be optimistic. 

I want to help the people in my community demonstrate that regardless of where we come from, the disadvantages we face as a person, we are able to achieve our dreams if we just keep working hard. 

The idea of aspirational capital has always been embedded into the culture I come from, and it has taught me to reach for my dreams regardless of the barriers that come my way. This is what I want to teach the people in my community to strive for. 

Who is a caring adult that has made an impact on your life, what did you learn? 

My college counselor, Ms. Ferrer, had a big impact on my life during my senior year of high school. I was oblivious towards attending college and did not care one bit about applying. Ms. Ferrer was the one who made me realize how significant applying to college really was. 

“The idea of aspirational capital has always been embedded into the culture I come from, and it has taught me to reach for my dreams regardless of the barriers that come my way.”

I was dealing with many family and personal problems during my senior year, leading to me not caring about school anymore and just wanting to finish as soon as possible. I wasn't mindful about what I’d do after high school. I didn't take into consideration what my future would look like if I didn't go to college. 

Ms. Ferrer motivated me to give it a chance and apply for college. She said I would regret it for the rest of my life knowing I could have been accepted to at least one college if I had just applied. After countless talks with Ms. Ferrer, I applied and waited for the results. 

I applied to four California State universities, and out of the four I got accepted into three, which was the best feeling in the world, knowing I was the first in my family to even apply to a college. 

I learned that regardless of the hardships you face throughout your life, if you seek help, there will always be at least one person who genuinely cares for you. You just have to look for that help. It's not easy dealing problems on your own; sometimes you may have to speak to someone. 

What impact have you made in your community that you are most proud of?  

This semester I had students come to me for advice with their college applications, their personal insight questions for University of California, and other college-related questions. Considering I am in my first year of my college, I have great knowledge on how the college system works, and I'm able to help these incoming freshman with anything they need. 

“Regardless of the hardships you face throughout your life, if you seek help, there will always be at least one person who genuinely cares for you.”

It's a great feeling when a student finishes their college application and knowing they applied regardless of the outcome. I try my best to balance school, work, my life, and other extracurricular activities. Although it has been rough this first year, I am trying my best to hold on and adapt to this lifestyle that I have committed to. 

What advice would you give adults who work with young people? 

The best advice I can give to adults who are working with youth, is to be mindful and considerate of how certain norms have been embedded into today's society. This is a completely different generation, and there are things that might seem abnormal to the older generation. 

You have to be able to adapt to a different environment. Youth today are living in a generation where technology has been the primary use for entertainment. They hold different values that might seem unethical; however, you need to respect everyone for what they believe in. 

Creating a bond with youth is also important, to be able to connect more and help them with anything they are going through. 

What are your plans and your goals for the future? 

I have quite a few long- and short-term goals for myself in the future. My first short-term goal is to get an associate’s degree in communications and transfer from a community college to a University of California in two years. I plan to get my undergrad at UCLA and my master’s degree at UC Berkeley. 

This sounds quite impossible, especially as a person of color, but I know I really want it, so I’m going to do everything that I can to achieve these goals. Many people have laughed just hearing these goals, and that's what motivates me to strive for more. At the end of the day, I’m doing this for my family and myself. 

Hopefully, I am able to get my credentials in counseling to come back and help the students in my community to attend college.