Leaders in Life Conference inspires and empowers local teens

Hector Martinez, Reporter

The 19th Annual Leaders in Life Youth Conference is a conference that is made by teens for teens in order to help them make good choices so they can become leaders in their communities. Some of the people who addressed the students that day were Morgan Clayton who is the founder of Leaders in Life, mayor of Bakersfield Karen Goh, and singer Jessie Funk. Over 2,000 students from middle schools, Junior High, and high schools attended the Rabobank Arena on March 15 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

While many of the students and other audience members were looking for their seats, the Taft High School Jazz band played several numbers before the event started. After that, the first speaker began to give a small talk to the students. Morgan Clayton, who is the president and founder of Leaders in Life Youth Conference, addressed the students.

Clayton began his speech by letting the students know that it is important for them to start their day with a positive heart and mind, and in order to do that they needed to have self-empowerment.

“This conference is for you to empower yourselves every day and become good leaders for your community,” said Clayton.

The second speaker to address the Youth Conference students was the city of Bakersfield mayor Karen Goh. She explained that the event was meant for students to raise their voices as Leaders in Life of Kern County. She expressed that sometimes people might think that raising their voices means increasing volume, but she said that was not the case.

“Let me give you this quote from a Persian poet named Rumi, and it goes like this ‘raise your words, not your voice, it is rain that grows flowers and not thunders,’” said Goh.

After the mayor’s speech, two senior high school students received a $250 scholarship by alumni Gustavo Luna. The first student to receive the scholarship was Isaiah Barron from Golden Valley High School, who is going to attend California Polytechnic State University. The second student was Kassandra Arriaga, from Wasco High School. She said she was going to attend University of California, Merced.

After the high school students received their scholarships, the last guest speaker came to address the students and that was Jessie Funk, a singer who has been on shows such as “The Biggest Loser” and “America’s Got Talent.”

Before Funk began to give her speech, she sang a few songs for the audience. She also asked for participation from two members of the audience, a male and a female, and after they were done, she gave them some gifts.

Funk explained to the students that they all needed to have positive relationships because bad relationships can be harmful and damage someone’s self-esteem. She called the bad relationship people “suckers” because they suck the life and light of the good human beings.

“That is why we need to surround ourselves with breathers which are people who always encourage us to do better,” stated Funk.

Before she concluded, Funk told a story to the audience. It happened when she was 18 years old and went on a humanitarian trip to Kenya, Africa. She was there with many other people to build a school for the community. She met a 13-year-old girl, named Cindy, so full of light that most of the kids there were really attached to her because she always had a positive environment around her. Funk said that Cindy was determined to read and write, and later on to graduate from the high school that Funk and the other people were building. She had hoped to come to America and go to college and obtain a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a Ph.D. in Psychology because she wanted to be a family therapist. But it wasn’t to be.

Funk explained that she later was told by her team leader that Cindy had many problems like being abandoned by her mom when she was little, losing her father to AIDS, and being taken in by some very distant relatives where she suffered from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

“Cindy at the young age of 13 was HIV positive and that same disease took her three years later. I was in contact with her until the last week when she died, and her light never went out,” said Funk.

Funk explained that she likes to tell Cindy’s story in conferences such as Leaders in Life because it helps students know that this is the role of leaders to continue fighting and never letting go of their own spark.