Veronica Stevens is a veteran Richmond Youth Organizing Team (RYOT) intern, where she has gained most of her experience in organizing and campaign work. Among many things, what makes her such a powerful youth organizer are the ways she is not afraid to stand behind herself and others, particularly in moments that challenge authority and the status quo.
In her own words:
My name is Veronica Stevens aka Ronniebo, and I'm 17 years old. I’m a senior in high school now, and I've been a member of RYSE for two years. I first heard about RYSE through my counselor at school. She suggested this internship because I needed a job at that moment and then it sprouted from there. I started to fall in love with the work I was doing. I also met some new friends.
Describing RYSE in 3 words would be talented, fun, and diverse. I chose those words because that's how the RYSE center is. It's full of talent and diversity. My favorite part of RYSE would have to be the studio because everyone is ‘turnt up.’ It's non-stop music and laughter at RYSE. Something I do at RYSE that I'm really proud of is being a RYOT Intern. We do a lot of community-based organizing. Everyone on the team is dedicated to changing their environment, and that's something I really relate to and that's something that I'm dedicated to.
Veronica was recently featured in The California Endowment’s Women’s Portrait Project: Celebrating Women Leaders.
Which living person do you most admire?
My mom. My mom, it’s easy.
What is your idea of happiness?
Being loved I think is my idea of happiness.
What is your most treasured possession?
I have a certificate from this program called Teen Echo.
MORE ABOUT VERONICA:
Born and raised in Richmond, Veronica is a sixteen-year-old junior at El Cerrito High School. Veronica’s life has been difficult – filled with the uncertainty of living in motels, sleeping in cars, and coping with a father who has been incarcerated most of her life. She says that Richmond was “a beautiful place” in her childhood, but in recent years it has been plagued by “crimes and murder." Neighborhood violence is now a fact of life for Veronica, and she talks about friends whose “parents or their brothers or their siblings are dead and it’s just them and they got to struggle on their own.” She attributes much of her personal growth and capacity to persevere in the face of adversity to her participation in Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Richmond programming and activities.
Veronica is thankful for finding RYSE, a BHC partner organization that serves as a resource and drop-in center for youth. RYSE is a safe space for youth to come together to “love, learn, educate, heal and transform” and serves as Veronica’s sanctuary. At weekly meetings, she and other youth discuss racism, ageism, sexism, the rise of white supremacy, and police brutality; they share how these issues affect their families and community. RYSE also offers therapy and support groups for LGBTQ youth, health centers, and computer labs, as well as college-prep and cooking workshops. Veronica gravitates toward RYSE because “everybody is welcoming here and you know, you just have a lot of support here."
Through her participation in RYSE she has also become active with Richmond Youth Organizing Team (RYOT) at her school. RYOT is a collective of Richmond youth who are dedicated to developing the “next leadership generation," meeting at RYSE weekly to plan and carry out youth-led activities throughout the community.
Veronica helped organize a forum with RYOT that brought city council candidates together so that youth and candidates could openly discuss the issues that are important to Richmond residents. It was also through RYSE that Veronica was able to attend Sisterhood Rising Leadership Retreat, a week-long program designed to build a network of sisterhood and the leadership capacity of young women of color in BHC sites throughout California.
Veronica wants to see her city “get better,” and she hopes the work she does and the lessons learned with RYSE will make a difference. She aspires to be a youth coordinator herself in the future and help other “troubled teens” who are struggling. She is uncertain about where she will be after high school, but she is “hopeful that something good happens” and “will just keep doing the same thing I do now and hope that something changes."