Sixto Cancel is in his early 20s, African American, gay, and grew up in several Connecticut foster homes. I am middle aged, a Taiwanese immigrant, a former Girl Scout leader, and I live in Albany, California with my husband and two kids. On the outside, he and I probably look very different, coming from very different backgrounds.
However, on the inside, we’re built from the same stuff – kindred spirits, talking too quickly over each other’s sentences, pouncing on one another’s ideas and coming up with another idea in rapid succession. We’re both can-do optimists, committed to reforming foster and the public child welfare system – a field where optimism can often be hard to find. Sixto advised on and helped pass a bill in Connecticut helping foster youth siblings visit each other. I wrote and passed a bill in California protecting the parental rights of undocumented immigrant parents with children involved in the foster care system.
On Friday and Saturday, I had the privilege of attending the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) hosted this year at my alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley. Sixto was being acknowledged by the Clinton Foundation for his new nonprofit, ThinkofUs, an online space for transitional age foster youth. ThinkofUs grew out of Sixto’s participation in the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative’s commitment. It is currently being piloted in California, Virginia and other states, receiving support from my foundation, the Walter S. Johnson Foundation, as well as other funding partners.
This is the ninth year and largest convening of the Clinton Global Initiative annual event hosted by the Clinton Foundation. Over 6,500 student leaders representing 100 countries gathered with top notch global leaders to brainstorm about innovative solutions to today’s biggest problems. In order to attend the CGI event, students must demonstrate a Commitment to Action. The premise of the CGI model is simple – that even with limited resources, young people can start and scale up innovative solutions when given the right opportunities and mentorship early in their design stage. Opening session presenters included Cady Coleman, NASA astronaut; Salman Khan, Khan Academy; Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, MuslimGirl.net; Wael Ghonim, Parlio; and Ben Silbermann, Pinterest. President Clinton facilitated the panel. It was the ultimate, dream team TedTalk event.
I heard and met many youthful leaders at the CGI conference engaging with leading experts – a civil engineer with a concept on how to provide readily accessible water to remote villages in Africa, and an entrepreneur creating cheap and affordable glasses for developing countries. The beauty of the event is the diversity of the students and the presenters.
Today’s problems and solutions require interdisciplinary thinking and talent, with broad exposure to people working on all different types of projects in different fields. It takes the talent of the old and young, of engineers and music majors, of students from MIT and UC Berkeley as well as first-generation college students, many who come from community colleges.
“No one is too old or too young to make a difference.” These were the words of the Clinton Foundation’s vice chairperson, Chelsea Clinton. I was reminded that mentorship is a two-way street, and that having an open mind to the ideas of young people keeps you mentally refreshed. I felt very young this weekend.
Yali Lincroft is a program officer for the Walter S. Johnson Foundation.