Staff Spotlight: Youth Organizing Team, Diana Diaz-Noriega and Carlos Lemus

Diana Diaz-Noriega, Youth Organizing Coordinator (bottom left), and Carlos Lemus, Voter Engagement Coordinator (bottom right) poses with firsts up with RYSE youth organizers. #youngpeoplelead #RichmondRYSing

Diana Diaz-Noriega, Youth Organizing Coordinator (bottom left), and Carlos Lemus, Voter Engagement Coordinator (bottom right) poses with firsts up with RYSE youth organizers. #youngpeoplelead #RichmondRYSing

Join Diana and Carlos tonight—Tuesday, November 6th—for our annual Election Night Party!

This free, youth and family-friendly event is an opportunity for youth to learn about and get connected to the electoral process, bring community together to watch the 2018 Midterm Election results and celebrate the Campaign for YES on Measure H.

Food, dessert, and beverages will be provided.

The RYSE Youth Organizing Team:

Carlos Lemus, Voter Engagement Coordinator
Diana Diaz-Noriega
, Youth Organizing Coordinator

What is your role at RYSE, both individually as coordinators, and also in collaboration as a team?

CL: My role at RYSE is the Voter Engagement Coordinator, which means I move our PowerCA (formerly YVote/YouthVote) program forward, a network of 29 community-based partner organizations across all of California with the collective goal of registering young people to vote.

DDN: As the Youth Organizing Coordinator at RYSE, my role is to support the development of our six Richmond Youth Organizing Team interns, RYOT Fellow, Organizing Club members, and ryse members as a whole. Our Youth Organizing weekly programs are grounded in collective healing, freedom of expression, art, ancestral knowledge, identity, and solidarity— all with youth at the center of each development piece.

You work very closely with the RYSE RYOT (Richmond Youth Organizing Team) and SCL (School Campaign Leaders) youth interns. Can you share more about the interns’ most recent work? How about what are they working on next?

CL: The School Campaign Leaders worked with their teachers to set up a classroom workshop where I inform students on the importance of voting, teach how to register, and give them the opportunity to register. Since Mid-September, the youth did phone and text banking where they asked registered voters across Contra Costa, but mostly Richmond area, to get out and vote, leading up to the midterm elections on November 6 (today!).

DDN: This summer RYOT organized, “Our Schools, Our Voice: Push Back Against School Push-Out,” an event for youth -by youth- to hold space for youth in the community to defend, reimagine, transform, and organize for education justice in West Contra Costa Unified School District. At this event members participated in written reflections, a graffiti art activity, a salsa competition, an education justice gallery inside the casita, food, music and raffle prizes. All of the content placed inside our Education Justice Gallery was researched by the entire youth organizing intern cohort as a whole, they created their own stencils for their graffiti art station and they also prepped and cooked the food they served at their event. Their first event working together for the first time as interns was a success. This Fall, RYOT lined up events for members to engage in. RYOT intern Ann Guiam, a senior at Richmond High School, coordinated a Youth Power event in October for RYSE’s Youth Power themed month. Through storytelling and sewing quilts, Ann engaged youth to share their experiences as youth leaders in their cities. RYOT interns Marlen Gonzalez (student at John Henry High School) and Ann Guiam are coordinating RYSE’s annual Liberation Dinner, “Liberating Our Souls" on November 20th. Through art, a dinner, music, and presenters we honor and celebrate our ancestors, remind ourselves that we are standing in Ohlone land, continue to reclaim spaces that have been taken from black and brown communities, and pay our respects to all of our relations. On top of all of these amazing events, our RYOT interns held campaign work for our Measure H campaign to secure funds that can be used to fund services that are needed in Richmond.  

In your work together, what has been the biggest challenge so far?

CL: I could sense the relief of the small department of Youth Organizing when I joined the team, as Diana had been running both RYOT and SCL on top of other programs such as a Vegan class and a Book club. For me, the challenge has been maintaining the new distinction between the two groups while still building community across both groups.

DDN: I think the biggest challenge has been simply having to constantly remind ourselves that the work we are doing is beyond a policy, a measure, or a vote. We are doing holistic work, work that: takes time, involves individuals and communities, can be uncomfortable, challenges systems of oppression, refuses to get anything but what we deserve (basic human rights), is always changing, is personal, it’s political, it triggers our trauma and opens up wounds, and is in constant need of support from all spaces, but most importantly, work that is healing through organizing—and that’s both the challenge and beauty of it.

What has been the biggest highlight?

CL: The biggest highlight would have to be collecting signatures to place a Soda Tax on the ballot for November 2018; this new fund would initiate the fund disbursement towards kids and children services from the City of Richmond, after Measures E and K passed in local June 2018 election. It opened my eyes to Richmond’s voter turnout during each election, as well as the power of community in collaboration with city officials. With great community power comes immense resistance from the political players who have much to lose from this, in this case Big Soda companies and lobbying. By the end of June, Soda lobbyists were able to force California Legislature, including Gov. Jerry Brown, to ban any future local soda taxes until 2031! It was heartbreaking, but luckily we got local city officials who rallied together to find other solutions and alternatives.

DDN: One of the biggest highlights during this new season has been hiring an amazing cohort of youth organizing interns for our SCL and RYOT internships. It has been beautiful watching our youth be in healthy struggle together through collective resistance organizing towards liberation. This Fall we also launched a RYOT Fellow position, a new internship for experienced RYOT interns with an intensive program to continue to go through our leadership pipelines at RYSE. We currently have 13 mighty youth organizing interns that come from 7 different schools in our district:


1 RYOT Fellow:

  • Jahiem Jones (Kennedy High)

6 RYOT interns:

  • Marlen Gonzalez (John Henry High)

  • Ann Guiam (Richmond High)

  • Jose Reyes  (Richmond High)

  • Lorraine Wangari  (Kennedy High)

  • Alfonso Garcia (DeAnza High)

  • Keylem Ortiz  (Middle College)

6 School Campaign Leaders:

  • Ashanti Stricklen (Kennedy High)

  • Aliza Meeks (Kennedy High)

  • Journi Kiel  (El Cerrito High)

  • Daniela Diaz (Contra Costa College)

  • Juan Ramirez  (Leadership High)

  • Bryan Benavides (Richmond High)


If the RYSE Youth Organizing Team could be symbolized as an animal, what would it be and why?

CL: If I had to choose a symbolic animal to represent the YO interns, it would have to be a sloth. Many people think they are adorable and harmless, but they are actually one of the most defensive animals when they are under attack. The sloth’s slow movement would symbolize the youth’s patience with the world, even though the world tries and force them to keep up with their pace and high expectations.

DDN: My family descended from the Guachichil, an indigenous tribe of Mexico, Guadalajara Jalisco, and so while thinking about my ancestors and totems the Buffalo came in mind. The buffalo is considered by many tribes as a symbol of abundance: its meat fed the people, skins were used for clothing and covering, bones and sinew were crafted as survival tools, hooves were converted into glue. Buffalo's Medicine symbolizes an honor, reverence or special love for all the things that Mother Earth offers. It is also knowing that abundance is present when all relations are honored as sacred, and when gratitude is expressed to every living part of Creation. Buffalo signals a moment to reconnect with the meaning of life and the value of peace, to praise the gifts you already have, and to recognize and honor the sacredness in all paths, though they may be different than yours. The Buffalo reminds me of the ways our youth have made “something out of nothing,” reclaiming spaces and thriving using their own skills and abilities to keep each other safe and alive in toxic environments. Our youth are constantly giving back to community, making ends meet through their organizing, art, and storytelling. Through a sharing of healing and cultural practices we build community, re-ground ourselves, and stop as needed to prevent youth burnout. Our youth understand that our liberation is bound up with each others, so the need to work together, listen to each other, and love each other is crucial and ever so impactful in our collective movement towards liberation.

What’s something the other staff and youth members don’t know about you?

CL: I love sloths.

DDN: I taught myself the alphabet in ASL, American Sign Language.

Tell us something that happened in the RYSE community that resonated with you this month, be it something funny, touching, inspiring etc…

CL: All of the cooking and food-making activities that have been going on. The previous staff(s) that were in charge of the garden and food classes left so that role has been missing, but many staff and youth have taken it upon themselves to teach vegan recipes, simple cooking etiquette, and smoothies on their own. It reminds me that not everyone has the same access to nutritious foods, nutrition education, and proper cooking methods, and it is up to the community to teach each other these things otherwise we will continue normalizing our dependence to fast food and liquor store snacks.

DDN: One of my favorite events at RYSE is our Night Out for Safety and Liberation event, coordinated by Andrew, and the Education and Justice Department. I appreciate this space as it makes room for community to discuss and (re)define safety beyond fear, punishment, detention, surveillance and towards liberation. These conversations are urgent, impactful, and needed to build a new world that can exist for all people’s. In connection to this event, I want to make space to raise awareness on the National Prison Strike at San Quentin, and really everywhere that our communities are incarcerated. The National Prison Strike is in response to the “riot” in the Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in South Carolina on April 15, 2018. Seven prisoners lost their lives during an instigated melee that could have been avoided had the prison not been overcrowded from the greed wrought by mass incarceration and a lack of respect for human life that is embedded in this country’s penal ideology. The Prison Strike runs from August 21-September 9th, so I encourage our community to support these efforts by researching to learn more, talking about it with friends, donating if you have funds, or simply supporting our community who is resisting from the inside. As Assata Shakur once said, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” #LetsGetFree