As a student and research assistant at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) from Compton, CA, Ernesto Villasenor has focused on issues of social and environmental injustice in inner city communities. He has worked to develop methods of intervention in the areas of public health, the environment, and education. He has completed extensive work on public health disparities in Los Angeles County, helping to develop a resolution in the field of public health that has been adopted by seven school districts in LA County and published with the Latino Medical Student Association. Ernesto hopes his work will help bring positive changes in inner city communities, throughout the country, and the world.
YP4: What do you stand for?
Ernesto: I stand not for what is left, or what is right…but what is just.
YP4: How did you become involved with YP4?
Ernesto: I joined YP4 this past Spring as one of the 2013 Cohort Fellows, and it has been such a profound experience to say the least. The YP4 Fellows and staff are not only my colleagues, but also my family. They’ve helped me grow in many ways that I wouldn’t be able to, acquiring new angles of approach in the issues that I am fighting to address.
YP4: What is your Blueprint for Social Justice?
Ernesto: There are so many ideas that I have for my Blueprint—the environment, food justice, education, health—and the foundational basis will be developed on understanding and creating awareness of Money In Politics and its influence on these issues, which I have been working on as a leader of Students United For Democracy, a national coalition that is working on getting big money and corporate influence in policy development.
YP4: What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Ernesto: Being at the nexus of addressing the disparities that are prevalent in my community of Compton and using these positive outcomes to help innovate sustainable solutions. I got my research published in the Latino Medical Student Association’s Journal and was a keynote speaker at a world-renowned conference in democratic education.
YP4: What motivates and inspires you?
Ernesto: The ambition and gravitas that my family in Students United & YP4 has towards bringing positive change in our society. I’ve never met such individuals in my life who share the similar passions as I do, which has empowered me to reach higher bars that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.
YP4: What is a main goal that you want to accomplish?
Ernesto: I really want to create awareness and importance that corporations and other big money folk have on our everyday lives, helping bring a government that truly is of, by, and for the people.
YP4: What is your vision for the world?
Ernesto: I envision a world that lives in harmony with the environment, where every citizen puts into the world more than what they take. Collectively, we can all work on this.
YP4: How do you feel you fit in to the Progressive Movement?
Ernesto: When we think of the ‘Progressive Movement,’ we connect it with that of what happened the early 20th century—social activism and political reform—topics that are very much alive today and in the work that I am doing.
YP4: What is a struggle that you’ve faced or are facing in your work?
Ernesto: Changing the apathetic behavior about the importance of money in politics. Many people think that it isn’t of their concern because their voice is minute compared to that of, let’s say, Koch Industries. The work that I am doing with Students United is to unite these minute voices to become one large, empowered voice that will overcome that of the Koch Industries and others.
YP4: What advice do you have for others dealing with those struggles?
Ernesto: Dr. Seuss once said the following: “When you’re in a slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.” But, it does not mean that it isn’t impossible to get out. You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, and developing new angles of approach can guide you in any direction you choose.
YP4: How can other Fellows get involved or find more information about the work you’re doing?
Ernesto: Fellows and non-Fellows alike can join the national movement to overturn Citizens United v. FEC by checking out the resources found on the Students United For Democracy website, studentsunitedfordemocracy.org, and taking part in the bi-weekly conference calls that we have!
YP4: What advice would you give to the 2013-2014 incoming class of Fellows?
Ernesto: In the words of my favorite rapper: “During your life, never stop dreaming. No one can take your dreams.” Aim and accomplish your dreams! We are the catalysts for positive change in our society, something that everyone has been waiting for. We are the future leaders in all aspects, and collectively, we will be empowering those whose voices were unheard!
YP4: If every time you entered a room your theme song played, what would it be and why?
Ernesto: Tupac’s Me Against The World.
YP4: Is there anything else that you want to say?
Ernesto: Being Straight Outta Compton, society didn’t expect much of me, or so statistics and social stigma dictated…but despite all of this, I became the Rose That Grew From Concrete. My YP4 family has nourished me in ways that allows me to continue to flourish. I will forever be thankful for this opportunity granted to me.