Soulforce Revolutionizes Summer Break

Soulforce Revolutionizes Summer Break

The directors and mentors at Soulforce provide an in-depth experience for fellows to connect with others of different races, socioeconomic classes and gender identities. Through several weeks of workshops, presentations and meetings with other fellows, Soulforce aims to transform the high school students into mindful and effective leaders.

Junior Emily Meza-Perez was a fellow at Soulforce last year and has returned to the program this summer as a coach because of her positive experience last year.

“[Soulforce] really allowed me the space to think about how I could actually make a change and… where I could collaborate with other people who cared,” Emily said.

Over the summer, the fellows form teams and begin to design solutions to issues that impact the community, such as environmental hazards, gentrification and the income gap. The fellows spend several weeks researching their topic, collecting data and brainstorming a possible solution. The issues explored are often very complex and don’t always an exact solution.

Because of this, the fellows focus on seeing the issues from multiple perspectives and work toward alleviating or possibly solving them rather than searching for end-all, be-all solution. These goals are often not the end of a fellow’s journey as the process of addressing a problem can take a lifetime. While fellows work on their projects, there is a large focus on deeply understanding the community beforehand.

“You can’t get to any sort of solution if you don’t understand the people you’re serving,” Singh said.

Throughout this entire process, fellows focus on the value of connecting with their inner-selves while also creating and maintaining connections they have made with their communities. The summer ends with a presentation of their research, solutions and any work they have completed to an audience of family, friends, civic leaders and other stakeholders.

Emily’s final project included creating a video to present to the community and mayor as a way to spark an open conversation about the issue of gentrification. The video featured people with varying backgrounds and the impacts that gentrification had on them as well as their communities.

“It was really interesting to hear feedback from people and just to see how everyone came together to talk about something like this,” Emily said. “It was just really inspiring to know that there are people that care and people who are willing to have an open conversation about [gentrification].”

A speaker who presented to the fellows said, “The first revolution is inner,” something that resonated deeply with Senior Axel Galeas and his group. This brought him to his own self-revelation.

“My mind was blown,” Axel said. “I know that I want to make some kind of change, I know that I want my community… to be better than it already is. [This] just made me appreciate everybody for who they were, made me appreciate me for… who I am.”

When asked about what she hoped the fellows would take away from the program, Emily emphasized the importance of empathy and its role in addressing community issues.

“I think it’s allowing yourself to grow and to learn things, because I think… you can go into the program with a certain idea of how you want to fix something… but I think sometimes we forget to listen to [the people we are serving] directly, and really understand our community before trying to go out and change it,” Emily said.