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CIRCLE Launches Inaugural Young Leaders Learning Community Cohort with The Allstate Foundation

The 12 civic leaders, ages 16-29, will continue to develop leadership, media, and financial skills in the program.

As part of our efforts to support and promote youth leadership in civic life, in February 2024 CIRCLE launched our inaugural Young Leaders Learning Community (YLLC) cohort in partnership with The Allstate Foundation.

The YLLC brings together 12 civic leaders, ages 16-29, from diverse backgrounds and communities. Through both trainings and peer-learning, the program will strengthen young people’s leadership abilities, help them nurture relationships across diverse communities, and cultivate skills like organizational effectiveness, media presence, and financial management.

CIRCLE research has consistently found that youth-led civic work can be transformational, for both young people themselves and their communities. Young people bring innovative ideas and unique perspectives to beat on community problems, and they are often the most qualified to solve challenges that affect them and their peers. As such, this learning community seeks to fill a gap in access to leadership and professional development opportunities for young people early in their journeys as civic leaders. Over the next year, the program will create a collaborative environment for young leaders to build relationships and learn with and from one another, ultimately developing a national network of young civic leaders.

This work has been made possible by the generous support of The Allstate Foundation, which empowers people and communities so they can thrive. Established in 1952, The Foundation takes bold actions and inspires people to act by empowering youth to serve and improve communities, working to close the racial wage gap, and disrupting the cycle of relationship abuse. The Foundation also supports nonprofit leaders through the Nonprofit Leadership Center.

About the Young Leaders

Our civic leaders are directly involved in making meaningful civic and community impact. They bring their expertise and experiences in areas like disability and accessibility justice, indigenous governance, trans and gender non-conforming organizing, racial equity, community revitalization, transportation, and democracy into the cohort. You can read more about each young leader and their background below:

Solomon Balaam-Reed (he/they, 24, Georgia) is a Data Associate at ProGeorgia, supporting voter engagement throughout the state. In addition to this role, they are an organizer for the Atlanta Trans Gender Non-Conforming Basketball League, which builds community while fighting for the liberation of trans people in the city and state. Before moving to Georgia, they were focused on racial equity and prison reform activism in Alabama. Outside of organizing, Solomon performs improv, goes to music festivals, and deals with the highs and lows of being a Minnesota Timberwolves fan.

Triston Black (26, Arizona) is a citizen of the Navajo Nation. His clan relations are of the (Kinyaa'áanii) Towering House clan, Born for (Tó'díchii'nii) the Bitter Water Clan, his maternal lineage is the (Bit'ahnii) Folding Within Arms clan, and his paternal lineage is the (Tł'ízí'łánî) Many Goats clan. He has experience doing voter engagement in his community, as well as serving as a leader through his involvement in the Navajo Nation Ad-Hoc Youth Council and the inaugural New Mexico Indian Affairs Department Indigenous Youth Council. He looks forward to interweaving the skills he learns from this program with the Indigenous and Navajo values around civic engagement that are a motivating force for his community engagement. Triston enjoys tending to livestock, so if you see his cows chase them towards the Chuska mountains.

Hannah Michelle Bussa (26, Nebraska) works at a youth-driven nonprofit, Elevate Omaha. As a writer, she is currently working on a project highlighting the decisions people make to leave and to stay in the Midwest. Hannah advocates for disability justice and the queer community, seeking to identify ways to have the greatest impact on intersecting issues.

Yarisa Diaz (she/her, 25, Rhode Island) is a Program Manager at Young Voices RI, working to expand youth voice in policymaking in the state of Rhode Island, while providing leadership training to BIPOC youth to equip them with the skills and confidence to take advantage of such opportunities in their communities. Yarisa is concerned about the toll that organizing can take on young people’s mental health and is dedicated to finding more support and tools to prevent burnout among young community leaders. Outside of work, you'd find Yarisa spending time with her fiancé trying out new recipes, or getting lost in a good book.

Henry Jagodzinski (he/him, 18, Montana) is a high schooler advocating for safer streets in Billings, Montana. Henry's transportation advocacy has awarded him experiences working with and lobbying a variety of local municipal bodies and institutions—both legislative and administrative, bringing expertise in intergenerational collaboration and youth input that other learning community participants will benefit from. Outside of advocacy, Henry enjoys listening to NPR and his favorite podcasts, exploring the Montana outdoors, and spending time at the Billings Public Library.

Cameron Katz (she/her, 24, Georgia) is a Community Engagement Manager at Made by Us, a collaboration of 200+ history museums and historic sites—from the Smithsonian to local organizations—joining forces to ignite and inform Gen Z civic participation. Cameron is interested in bringing history to the current conversation and inspiring optimism in young people across the political spectrum. In addition to her critical work bridging museums and civic engagement, Cameron is also a contributor to Teen Vogue. In her free time, Cameron enjoys exploring Atlanta, staring at her computer and trying to write fiction, and scouring bookstores for her next great read.

Macy Kenworthy (she/her, 27, Alaska) grew her civic identity as a member of, and now the program coordinator for, the Arctic Youth Ambassador program. The program has a heavy focus on advocating for Arctic communities on the international stage, and Macy is excited to use the learning community to kickstart greater engagement in her local community and state. In particular, she wants to start a project to collect oral histories from the elders in her rural home community, Kotzebue, as a way of preserving Iñupiaq language and culture. She has thought deeply about what youth leadership may look like in her community and how that intersects with Iñupiaq traditions and culture. Macy's favorite place is a traditional Iñupiaq settlement called Sisualik, where both sides of her family have roots. It's where she spent the summers growing up and learned to live off the land that her ancestors thrived on.

Anya Khera (she/her, 16, Massachusetts) is involved in both local and national efforts to lower the voting age to 16. She sits on the Vote16USA Youth Advisory Board for Generation Citizen and has been pushing for the policy change in her hometown of Wellesley, Massachusetts. Her advocacy tactics range from lobbying council members and running educational sessions to research, including conducting stakeholder interviews. She is also a Youth Member of the League of Women Voters Wellesley, an intern at TurnUp, and a volunteer for Easterseals and World of Wellesley (non-profit, DEI focus). She founded and leads her school's chapter of Amnesty International. Outside of school and work, she enjoys fencing, playing violin and writing poetry.

Hudson Locke (he/him, 16, Texas) serves as the Chairman of the Banned Books Subcommittee on the youth commission for the city of San Antonio. In that position, he has done advocacy opposing banned books. In addition to his position as a commissioner, he works to increase the civic engagement of other young people in his community, in part through his work with voting advocacy organization Youth Do Vote. He often writes op-eds to advocate for the issues he feels passionate about in local media. Outside of work, Hudson likes to watch stand up specials and play strategy video games.

Alajia McKizia (she/her, Nebraska) is forming a nonprofit aimed at restoring art and culture in North Omaha. As a multi-disciplinary artist, Alajia organizes the Juneteenth Joy Fest, a celebration of Black individuality and revitalizing Black cultural heritage in Nebraska. Additionally, as a Program Coordinator at Kiewit Luminarium, she works to develop engaging programs that work to infuse science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) into museum programming. Outside of work and/or organizing, she enjoys walks, bike riding, and visiting new cities to see new art and eat vegan ice cream.

Faria Tavacoli (she/they, 20, Nevada) serves as a Community Health Worker in the Las Vegas valley. Faria provides critical support to justice-impacted families to ensure that they have access to health-related educational resources. As a community organizer, Faria advocated on behalf of comprehensive sex ed legislation for the state of Nevada by building community power and supporting civic engagement efforts with young people. Faria is interested in engaging in health policy to ensure equity with various stakeholders and remains deeply embedded in and passionate about their Southern Nevada community. Outside of work and organizing, Faria is a recreational skateboarder and mural artist.

Ikeoluwatomiwa Opayemi (she/her, 17, Connecticut) is an active civic leader organizing around racial and educational justice, and the intersections of the two. She founded her high school’s Black Student Union, organized students on a “Students Over SROS” campaign, and continues to educate her peers and local community on the importance of being civically engaged. She also has been involved in Students for Educational Justice and has worked to make curricula in Connecticut more inclusive. Ike looks forward to pursuing public policy when she begins college in the upcoming fall.