KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The issues of immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented Americans have lurched back into the headlines as President Obama and leaders in Congress push new proposals. This week's Fox 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever is an outspoken advocate for those millions of aspiring Americans. And leaders at many levels listen to him -- and act.
As dozens of concerned people gathered in a Kansas City meeting room Feb. 12 to listen to and analyze President Obama's State of the Union speech, a high school student prepared them for what they would hear and do. Like many other members of the faith-based community activism organization Communities Creating Opportunities (CCO), 18-year-old Will Medina had a special interest that night. What would the President propose on immigration reform and enabling millions of undocumented Americans to gain citizenship?
"They're coming here for that promise of the pursuit of happiness," says Will. "Life and liberty. That's what they're coming here for. How can you tell them 'no' when our country was built by immigrants for immigrants."
Will may be young but he is a skilled community organizer, a veteran leader counted on by CCO and its member churches and organizations. He started with CCO when he was in 8th grade and organizes on all of its issues, but citizenship has emerged has his top priority.
"He's really not only helped to bring the stories of his neighbors to light and into the public realm," says CCO Policy Director Molly Fleming-Pierre, "but he's helped bring other people into this fight, as well, people who might not understand just how deeply this pain goes of being undocumented in Kansas City and being undocumented in America."
Will and his family are legal citizens and he's determined break down the barriers preventing others his age -- the so-called Dreamers -- from becoming citizens, too, as well as their parents and older relatives and friends.
"It matters to me because I see their struggles and I see there are people exactly like me," says Will. "We're basically mirror images of each other in our character and how we were raised. The only difference is a couple of document papers."
Will's focus on community organizing and advocacy extends well beyond citizenship for immigrants. For years he has been a champion for people who live and work in his home area -- old northeast Kansas City.
"As a citizen I have a really big voice," says Will.
And in 2010, barely into high school, Will effectively and passionately used that voice for his undocumented neighbors who were victimized by crime but were afraid to report it for fear police would discover their status. Will was front and center at a large rally where neighborhood activists got the Kansas City Police Department to officially adopt a significant policy for the safety and security of undocumented residents, agreeing to take reports and pursue crimes without asking for papers.
"It's been working along," says Will. "It's not perfect yet but I feel like, especially in some portions of the Hispanic community, they feel they can reach out to the police now."
"Will has a lot of skills of a strong leader but one of the most important ones is the capacity to build relationships," says Fleming-Pierre. "And he has a unique ability to sit down with individuals and hear their story and inspire them to get involved in the work that he's a part of and he really builds true relationships of trust."
Will will graduate from Cristo Rey Kansas City High School this spring. And his new organizing project is working with school principal, Mary Kallman, to form a student chapter of CCO at Cristo Rey and develop leaders to take over when he's gone off to college.
"What I've been wanting to do lately is getting more people in Kansas City involved, getting peers involved more," says Will. "I would like to see the youth get up and start speaking out, as well, about this so that our Congress people can see that this is our country. So we have to start using our voice to start making decisions now."
Will is launching a new project to make a documentary film called Immigrant America and Its Youth. He's taken it to the Kickstarter website to try to get funding. Will's page on that now up and running. Go to http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/willmedina/immigrant-america-and-its-youth to pledge support.
Part of CCO's mission is to develop strong and skilled neighborhood leaders like Will Medina to work on its broad range of social and economic issues. To connect with CCO, go to http://www.cco.org/.
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