Focus on Chiqui Diaz



Chiqui Diaz, a member of the Spahr Center’s Social Justice Fellowship, wins the California Endowment’s Youth Advocacy Award!

Chiqui was one of 6 young people from across the state named “Voices for Change”. The Youth Awards honor youth who engage civically, volunteer locally, advocate for important causes, or encourage engagement among their peers. The award seeks to recognize youth who take brave action when faced with deep-rooted systemic barriers and injustice, have shown up in their community as agents of change, have made a positive impact on their community at large, and will continue to evolve as leaders in the years ahead.

The California Endowment describes the youth as “agents of change who have dedicated themselves to the hard work of addressing social injustices or inequalities in their local community or state.” And we completely agree! Chiqui is an incredible community activist. We wanted to share more about her work in Marin County.

Fel: Tell us about you!

Chiqui: I am a sophomore at San Rafael High School. I am fifteen years old (fifteen and a half on December 17th, which means if all goes according to plan I will be getting my driver’s permit soon!) I am a teen board member of Beyond Differences, a youth led social justice movement working to end social isolation, and a social justice fellow at The Spahr Center. In addition, I am a member of our school chapter of SLAM!, which is a group of students working to promote anti-racism on our school campus. I have also recently begun an initiative with my good friend Harita Kalvai called Speak Out San Rafael (SOSanR), looking to promote student voice in our school district.

Apart from advocacy, I play cello with the school orchestra, and I also play on the school water polo, basketball, and swim teams respectively. During non-Covid times, I work as a junior coach for my local swim team, Swimarin. I am also a twin sister and a self-identified nerd. I love movie nights with my family and all things pop culture.

Fel: How did you get involved with your advocacy work?

Chiqui: I have always had a really strong moral compass. When I was five or six, I sat at the kitchen counter and very avidly explained to my aunt how life was very unfair because my twin sister had already lost two teeth, and I had lost none. In 4th grade, my mom took me to Book Passage to see Bryan Stevenson read from his book, Just Mercy. I was blown away by his speech and the issues that he talked about in our justice system. That moment left a strong mark on me.

In 5th grade, the teacher who ran the school Safety Patrol believed strongly in student empowerment. Every time I told him that we should organize an activity or put together a schedule for the group, he would tell me to do it. I think that really kicked off my career in community organizing.

I ran for student council every year from third to eight grade. I never won in elementary school, but when I got to middle school, my luck changed. I was the Davidson Middle School Student Body Secretary for two years in a row, in seventh and eighth grade. In addition, I joined other school groups like WEB (Where Everyone Belongs), TUPE (Tobacco Use Prevention and Education), Peer Court, and the GSA (Gender Sexuality Alliance). As I gained more leadership opportunities, I was able to build a lot of my own personal skills, and I really got to see how I could make positive change in my community. Inspired by a presentation made by the Beyond Differences Teen Board members in 6th grade, I saw an opportunity to advocate for social justice by promoting inclusive school culture. I have been involved ever since, eventually joining the teen board when I got to high school.

This last summer, after Covid hit, I got the opportunity to join the social justice fellowship at Spahr, something I may not have been able to do if I wasn’t stuck at home. Joining the fellowship has been a really transformative experience for me, where I have not only had the opportunity to advocate for systemic change in Marin, but also to learn about grassroots activism on a much deeper level and become a better advocate. It’s allowed me to work with some really incredible other youth towards making some really exciting and positive change for racial and LGBTQ+ justice.

Fel: What have you been working on recently?

Chiqui: Over the summer, I worked to enhance, uplift, and modernize the Beyond Differences SEL curriculum for their national Know Your Classmates day. I worked with teens from Community Youth Center (CYC) in San Francisco to help develop the campaign Stand Up for AAPI Youth, which combats Covid-based hate and bias towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. I will be working to enhance Beyond Differences curriculum for their next national day, No One Eats Alone, as well.

In terms of curriculum, I have also been working with the folks at Spahr to push for the diversification of curriculum in local Marin schools. I have helped to create and compile an extensive booklist with LGBTQ+ books, resources, and lesson plans for English and history classes at every level. We are currently in the process of continuing to create and complete that. Other systemic school change that the fellowship is advocating for are mandatory cultural competency trainings for teachers and staff, more inclusive Sex-Ed curriculum, gender neutral facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms, better supports for transitioning students, and other general support for LGBTQ+ students.

I have just recently kicked off an initiative with an incredible fellow student activist and good friend of mine, Harita Kalvai, called Speak Out San Rafael. Our mission is to create a student-led platform for middle and high school students in the San Rafael City Schools district to share their voices and experiences. We believe that every student deserves a safe space to have their voice heard, no matter who they are. We are going to work to hold monthly panel discussions, as well as other more casual platforms for discussion, to give the youth who are so often spoken over the chance to speak up and share their voices about the issues that are important to them.

In general, I make a lot of presentations to adults and students, with both local and national audiences. To celebrate Beyond Differences’ Be Kind Online Day last year, I was one of two teen board members who presented at WE Schools Live Feature Friday: Spark Connection, Create Community an event hosted by My colleague, Alex Paloglou, and I presented a lesson to 700+ viewers live online regarding how to navigate social media in the time of Covid and promote inclusion online. The presentation went on to receive 19 thousand views.

Over the summer, I worked with some other Beyond Differences teens to film a series of panel discussions called Beyond Engaged that covered topics of social isolation (specifically in the times of Covid), implicit bias, and allyship). I also worked with a fellow Beyond Differences Teen Board member, Kuniko Randles, to create a spoken word video about Generation Z that was played at an SEL conference. In June, I spoke at a protest in Fairfax for racial and LGBTQ+ put on by the fellowship.

In October, I had the incredible opportunity to be featured at CASEL’s 2020 SEL Exchange, a virtual summit about Catalyzing Our Commitment to Youth. I was one of three youth speakers, and I wrote and performed a spoken word about belonging for the two thousand+ educators, counselors, and professionals in attendance at the conference.

Fel: Why does taking action for social justice matter to you?

Chiqui: This is a bit of a complicated question. To put it simply, I take action for social justice because it is my job to help other people. This is a value that my father has instilled in me since I was a very little girl. It is impossible for me to see the injustice and systemic oppression that occurs in our society and not do something about it. Despite all the awful things that we have done as a human race, I still fundamentally believe in humanity. I believe that those with privilege and systemic power can do and be better, and I believe that those of us that have been repeatedly hurt by this society deserve better. When my faith waivers, I turn my community and they restore it. All of the incredible people around me inspire me to dream and fight for change.

I do think it is important to mention, however, that I also do this work because I have to. My basic human rights are on the line every single day. I want to be able to marry the person I love if I so choose, and to not have to live in fear of being fired from my job or hurt because of who I am. I want to have the freedom to be able to go wherever I choose without having to worry about whether or not the people there will be accepting of my core identity.

Queerness is a very complex thing for me. Being queer means that I have this very unique and incredibly beautiful experience and perspective on life. I love and exist in a way that feels expansive and special. It also means that I am constantly very actively and acutely aware of all the ways that I am excluded in the spaces that I function in, of all the ways that the system was built to work directly against me. I fight for social justice in honor of the queer folks that came before me and for those that will come after me. I want to see a world where queer joy, and the joy of all marginalized and under-represented folks, outweighs our suffering.