• March 2nd, 2024
  • Saturday, 04:29:47 AM

La Raza Youth Leadership Conference: Creating Sacred Movement

2023 La Raza Youth Leadership Conference awardees included Axel Cano, Cuauhtli Award; Quetzalli Chavez, Ocelotl Award; and Galilea Cano, Xochitl Award. (Photo: Daniel Stange de Acatl for El Semanario)


Daniel Stange de Acatl


Yo Soy Chicano. My heart is filled with hope love and faith when I see 600 Chicano youth from across the metro area come together. The annual La Raza Youth Leadership Conference was held on Oct. 27 and hosted by Regis University in Denver, CO.


They listened to elders and wisdom from the Conference CEO, Rudy Gonzales. They furthered the conference mission to ‘Create Sacred Movement’ and build memories and relationships that can last a lifetime. To see them continue forward and reflect about the potential they talked about is enough to get my Tio Eddie from beyond the grave to pat me on the shoulder. The event was second best, only compared to the presence that I felt being in attendance.


We are all moving 24/7.  Even when you sleep the Mother Earth spins through the galaxy. The limited perspective we have as tiny humans across the landscape is mirrored by children across the country that wake up on early mornings to attend public schools. Their precious minds are absorbing knowledge faster than the moon can circle the earth. Their telephones and I-pads are sending them twice the information they get in classrooms. The parents and friends play the most critical role of filtering and explaining all the data of information, but curriculums are crucial to providing a foundation for shared reality. What you aim to teach is key.


Sadly, there are few public schools that include Chicano history and American Indian perspectives in their programs. Those that have them, must fight tooth and nail to keep it going. La Raza Youth Leadership has been the spearhead of our educational movement since 1972. The pandemic obviously paused things the past few years, so this year was the first since 2019 and the planners went all out. 57 workshops were available to students in classrooms of Regis University in North Denver. The presence of state senators, city council members, and school board directors was an honor and inspiration. (Because we’re Chicanos too.)


Regis University is a 146-year-old private institution and the only Jesuit university in the Rocky Mountain west region. They have an important Chicana figure on their board, Nita Gonzales, and for the first time this year they hired the first Latino president, Salvador D. Aceves, Ed. D on Sept 22, 2023. As the host of this year’s La Raza Youth Leadership conference they have shown their capacity to expand and engage our community. Their University is comprised of three colleges – Anderson college of business and computing, Regis college, and Rueckert-Hartman college for health professionals, and they boast more than 130 academic programs.


La Raza kicked off the event in the Field House with gift bags containing a shirt and a sage bundle. There were many resource tables for students to connect with during breakfast.


The morning session had 45 hours of class time, among 34 workshop topics that included: leadership, healing, environmental justice, immigration laws, LGBTQ, social and mental health, collective liberation, prevention and civic responsibility, artistry liberation. Afternoon workshops increased physical activities with Danza Azteca, hip-hop and folklorico and almost 20 more art and crafts sessions with God’s Eyes, native jewelry, masks and sugar skulls; worry dolls and herbal teas for yoga movements and self-esteem building. It was a ceremony of reawakening imaginations.


New generations bring hope of a promise for a better future. Today’s changing landscape of cellphones and artificial intelligence has given some elders anxiety that our youth will forget the struggles of the past. Certainly, the low birth rates and gender fluidity discussions have been signs of changing behaviors. Amid international upheaval like mass migrations and environmental disasters there appears to be some cause for concern. So, attending the La Raza Youth Leadership conference was refreshing. My key take away was something I read that a 14-year-old student composed during a workshop on spoken word poetry that gave some bold prompts for students to fill in:


I am a structure filled with the qualities of my ancestors. A Human. I come from the earth. I was grown from the evolution of our society making me who I am. When I look in the mirror, I see a creation filled with hope and dedication to whom gave me this life. In my dreams, I imagine a life where I can give and receive the things life has for me. Be grateful. With our voices, we can show small-minded individuals the light we view in this world and experiences they might not experience. In our hands, we hold the possibilities and responsibilities handed to us from family. Feelings that crave affirmation.”


With our voices, we can show small-minded individuals the light we view in this world and experiences they might not experience.
14-year-old Poet


The youthful faces that lit up with ambition and the profound discussions that happened at this conference were invaluable. Promises for an expanded conference next year to include students from across the state were also made. Servicios de la Raza supported this conference and house the Leadership program. We have certainly witnessed an expansion of their support with satellite offices, even in Pueblo, Colorado. They continue to be an example of recognizing the unique issues that Chicano people face and currently employ more than 150 highly skilled individuals.


The future of América is Brown and Proud. Denver Colorado was a key leader in the civil right movement behind the Crusades for Justice and the innumerable Chicano activists and leaders that forged ahead. We continue to be a beacon and symbol for restorative practices. La Raza has always been a cry for the people, not of any specific race, but for all people as one human race. We are not a resource for the capitalist ambitions, and our economic purchase power today is the eighth largest in the world!


We have always had a struggle with trusting our leadership because of the traumas that our families endured. The next generations are not going to be saddled with those burdens and all they need is the affirmation from today’s elders that their voices are heard. That they are valued and that their opinions are worth listening to. Today is our time and the Chicano nation has a bright future. We are humanizing the planet as our new sun returns. Time for us to come out of the darkness and support these future generations that can realize great dreams. See photos from the 2023 La Raza Youth Conference here.


Danny Stange de Acatl is a Denver Native and Cultural activist that serves his community on various levels.