When Rene Aguilera ’83 was an undergraduate at UC Davis, he had the chance to met labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez who gave Aguilera some friendly advice on being a successful community organizer.
“If you don’t have a flier, you’re not an organizer,” Aguilera recalls Chavez tell him.
Today, Aguilera always has fliers on hand, with information on the 15th Annual Cesar E. Chavez Youth Leadership Conference and Celebration happening on March 28, 2015 at the ARC Pavilion.
It is a conference Aguilera founded in 2001 as a way to give back to his community in Roseville, California and to celebrate the holiday in honor of Chavez. With a rapidly growing Latino student body actively interested in attending college, Aguilera saw an opportunity to bring together community leaders to volunteer time and educate the next generation of leaders about career skills and college readiness. The event is hosted and sponsored by UC Davis helping keep the event free for the more than 1500 attendants, which includes students, alumni, parents and other members of the community.
“Having such a prestigious university sponsoring us really ups the game,” said Aguilera. “I never thought that my alma mater would host the conference, but it’s the perfect fit. People take the time to come to such a beautiful place, and it can change their lives forever. Even if we just help one student to go to college, that’s a success.”
The Youth Leadership Conference will have a series of panel discussions and workshops designed to inspire youth to continue their education, expose youth to successful role models in a wide variety of occupations, raise self-esteem and empower all participants in making positive decisions, and establish a network of role models that can provide support and encouragement. Though initially focusing on Latino students and speakers, the Conference now attracts students of all ethnicities.
Much of Aguilera’s inspiration for organizing the community to bring higher education to traditionally underrepresented minorities comes from his own experiences of communal cohesion and support in Roseville. He and his four older siblings are the first generation of his family born in the United States and all attended college—four of them at UC Davis. Aguilera, who had positive role models through his parents and siblings, says the Youth Leadership Conference is his way of providing those kinds of examples to academically ambitious students.
“We have a very different population today than we used to have,” Aguilera said. “The old guard is retiring, but they come back to be role models for a day. There are a lot of new opportunities for the youth stepping in, and those are California’s future leaders.”