Featured Fellows: Ada Aroneanu and Christopher Ramos

This year’s National Summit featured several YP4 senior fellows who shared their experiences with the new fellows by leading workshops. Ada Aroneanu and Christopher Ramos, both of whom were 2007 fellows and are current Leadership Academy fellows, were among them.

[asset|aid=1108|format=image|formatter=asset|title=Ada Aroneanu|width=120|height=120|align=left|resizable=true]Ada Aroneanu, the daughter of Romanian immigrants, was exposed to civil and immigration rights issues early in life. As a 2007 YP4 fellow, she began working for civil and labor rights at Pomona College and co-founded its Campus Climate Challenge. After graduating, she became increasingly involved in the movement, first with PIRGS in climate change, and now as an organizer with 1Sky, which focuses on environmental justice. Check out this YouTube video about the work she does!

[asset|aid=1109|format=image|formatter=asset|title=Christopher Ramos|width=120|height=200|align=right|resizable=true]Christopher Ramos graduated from Pomona College in May with a degree in public policy analysis and sociology. In the past he has worked at Equality California, El Colegio Público San Cristóbal in Madrid, and the Housing Rights Center of Los Angeles. He currently works as a research assistant at the Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank that is housed within UCLA Law School.

» Nominate a college student leader for the YP4 fellowship today.

Interview by Elisabeth Wilhelm, fall 2008 communications intern, for March 2009.

What do you stand for?

ADA: I stand for empowering as many people as possible with the tools that we all need to fight for progressive change and eliminate this impending crisis of climate change.

CHRISTOPHER: I love this YP4 question. (laughs) I think it’s easy to say that I stand for the just, critical, reflective, and progressive world we need now, a society that will be able to analyze itself and correct itself and work towards a good general sense of equality — a global society.

You’ve been with YP4 for several years. Have you noticed any changes in it and/or the young progressive movement at large?

ADA: The major difference I noticed is that so many people I bump into have been trained through YP4 and connected to YP4. Back then, it was all about getting us on the same page and it wasn’t totally clear where everything was headed. But now, several years later, now you can literally point to really powerful connections, you can trace it back to YP4 for facilitating that. Or you can point to really strong leaders and trace them back to YP4 now that they have been in the process of doing [leadership development] in the last couple years.

CHRISTOPHER: In terms of its alumni it’s grown incredibly, to the point where almost any conference you go to in the state and the country, you’re going to meet someone from YP4. You either know directly or you’re going to start that conversation and find that you have that common link. So I think that’s empowering for a lot of youth breaking into any sort of movement or issue they are working on, on-campus or off, to realize that they are growing in a strong network with a great foundation.

And now with a new administration taking over, and the sense of a nationalism that is rooted in progressive change and social justice, which is really a nice way to view America that hasn’t [been] thought of as an American value in the last few years… I think that’s powerful change that is going to reflect itself in the Summit this year.

How have the resources and training you’ve received through YP4 helped you?

ADA: One thing that’s been really helpful for me this year is that I’m pushing really hard in my job, but don’t necessarily have a built-in support structure like many young professionals. YP4 is standing in place of my support structure both professionally, spiritually, and as a peer group that is serving that purpose. I can’t think of what it would be like without that. It’s just irreplaceable. Based in D.C., it’s all about networking. The connections I’ve made at YP4 have been professionally and personally just really wonderful. It’s clearly facilitated at YP4.

CHRISTOPHER: I think YP4 has been a great, great resource for me for the past couple of years, for everything! From meeting friends and allies at my first conference I went to who have been my friends for the last couple years, maintaining and growing that network has been a really concrete result and resource from the program.

But also, more directly, the staff were really helpful when I first applied to my job. They looked over my résumé at the last minute and with great care. We did mock interviews and they taught me to look for different conferences to get to. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been an option.

They expanded my idea of the progressive movement. That’s one of the core values of YP4, is for us to realize that we are all under this big umbrella, even though sometimes with some issues we’re at odds. So they helped me that way conceptually.

Tell me about a moment in your experience with YP4 that really stands out to you.

CHRISTOPHER: The last rich moment I had was at the National Summit this past year. Van Jones was speaking to the crowd at a plenary session so everybody was present. He was a really dynamic speaker, speaking about the environmental justice but focusing it and integrating it with racial justice, something we don’t hear a lot. It was challenging a lot of people’s perceptions with those two issues and it was very much a call to action. Just to see the response from the crowd, they were so inspired by his words and they were standing and cheering, clapping for some of the things he was saying that at another time and place would have been very controversial, but in that moment it was pretty inspiring coming from him and understanding it in his work and political context.

What do you wish you had known before you became a fellow? What advice do you have to offer the Class of 2009?

ADA: I think it’s really easy to go to the Summit as your first exposure to YP4. It’s really big and they try to break to break it down into bite-size chunks so you can meet a certain set of people and build some connections, but you have to really be on top of your game to make powerful connections and maintain them after the Summit.

CHRISTOPHER: I don’t know if I wish I had known more when I walked into the Summit my first year. I think that that is the great thing about the program, is that you really have personal capital that is really important and valuable. Whatever you bring to the table, if you are the most experienced committee organizer or a bio major that took their first fellowship class....wherever you are, your thoughts and experiences are important and the program can help guide and shape where you go with that and with your past in whatever you want to do. Come with an open mind, come ready to learn and to be tired, but also excited and ready to hit the ground running when you return to campus.

Why did you decide to be a trainer at the Summit? What are you looking forward to?

ADA: I decided to become a trainer at the Summit because I really enjoy training. I do training through my job occasionally and it’s one of my favorite pieces of it, being able to arm people with a new perspective on what they’re experiencing in a subject that isn’t covered in school. Being able to give that for people for the first time is a really exciting feeling. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone. I’m so impressed by the YP4 staff. The recruitment that they’ve done in the past years, I [just] know I will meet people that will change my life.

CHRISTOPHER: It’s an idea of giving back to this program that I’ve taken a lot from and offering myself as a resource to the fellows. It’s also the fact that I’m excited to see what ideas people will have at the Summit, what issues they’re working on, and the larger strategy that will come from them for change. It’s a really unique, powerful moment in our nation’s history and our progressive movement and for liberals in general. I want to be part of that. It’s partly wanting to give back and it’s definitely partly being selfish, wanting to experience that moment with everybody else.

What’s next for you?

ADA: I’m working on this program right now at 1Sky which is the climate movement’s response to my.barackobama.com, trying to digitize classic field organizing. It’s a trial and error system but we’re looking to really exponentially expand its appeal and participation over the next year. I’m excited to get a bunch of trainings under way and put recruitment into place and feed that program. I’m been pouring myself into that program for the last couple of months.

CHRISTOPHER: At home, I’m continuing to do my research. The research we do here is really unique. It impacts policy issues. We’re producing reports that are shaping the debate around same-sex marriage and LGBT issues. The big thing right now is same-sex marriage. In California, the ballot language of Proposition 8 would cost state and local government millions of dollars in the short term. That verbiage came from a report we did. We’re in opposition right now of Proposition 8, working to get it rescinded through the courts. We’re doing a new report for the amicus brief to talk about how much money we’re actually losing, the fiscal impact and lost revenue from Proposition 8.

» Nominate a college student leader for the YP4 fellowship today.

» Meet the other featured fellows