"I WANTED everyone to know that youth truly can have a huge positive impact on their community, regardless of what city or state they live in," said Julian Santiago, a sophomore at Dr. Jorge Alveras High School in Providence and a board member of Young Voices.
Julian Santiago, a sophomore at Dr. Jorge Alveras High School in Providence and a board member of Young Voices, was the featured “youth speaker” at the Rhode Island Kids Count breakfast on April 2.
The event celebrated the release of the 2012 Factbook, a 171-page report that charts improvements and decline in the well-being of children and youth in each of Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns.
Santiago stole the show at the breakfast, which featured many of Rhode Island’s top elected officials, including Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts, Congressmen David Cicilline and James Langevin, Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.
It was Santiago’s second big speaking engagement as a member of Young Voices. In March, he testified at a hearing against so-called high stakes testing at the Statehouse.
PBN: As the youth speaker at the release of the Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook, what was the message that you felt was most important to be heard?
SANTIAGO: I wanted everyone to know that youth truly can have a huge positive impact on their community, regardless of what city or state they live in. If we support youth to reach their full potential, they will not be people that anyone needs to save. They will be a full contribution to our community, not a problem to deal with. We are all human, which means we all have a voice, and if we all have a voice, then we can all make a difference.
PBN: What do you think that adults – and business leaders – need to learn from your generation?
SANTIAGO: I think they should acknowledge the fact that youth can be involved in the “Big Boy” stuff. By that I’m talking about things such as having a major role in creating new policies, rather than just reading whatever is handed to them and accepting it even if they don’t agree. It’s really unfair to assume that “we don't know what we’re talking about,” especially if it’s an issue like education, that we deal with everyday. Also, I am the face of the next generation of leaders, and they need to know how I view things, how to work with me, and how to get me ready to take over for them.
PBN: What do you see as the greatest potential health threats to young people in Rhode Island?
SANTIAGO: One would definitely have to be tobacco. Big Tobacco companies are now promoting candy-flavored tobacco that seems made to target our youth. In Young Voices, we have been involved in Tobacco Free Providence, an effort to keep these products away from our youth. We actually worked with them to get a city ordinance passed. Now the companies are suing Providence over this, but we are standing up to it.
PBN: Do you see Providence Mayor Angel Taveras as a potential role model?
SANTIAGO: Mayor Taveras is an inspiration to me because of the way he represents youth in Providence so much. He really stood out to me when he didn’t back down against the Big Tobacco companies, even after they threatened to sue the city. Some may say he should’ve backed down, but I believe he made the right decision, and let everyone know that the youth of his city truly do mean a lot to him. It’s comforting to know that our Mayor is someone who actually really does care about us.
PBN: Do you have an idea of what kind of career you would like to pursue?
SANTIAGO: Honestly, I’m not sure. I’m only a high school sophomore, which means I still have a lot of time to decide. I’ve gone from wanting to be a video game designer, to a lawyer, to an advertising and promotional manager. A lot of people have told me that I should get involved in politics, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I actually did.