Nicolas Robledo, a third-year student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a student leader active in expanding youth engagement on Chicago's Southeast Side and making higher education more accessible to people with conviction records. Over the past year, he has worked with other young leaders from his Southeast Side neighborhood to organize youth-led community discussions that provide a space for young people to discuss topics of neighborhood empowerment, culture, and identity. On campus, he serves as a student coordinator with YES APPLY ILLINOIS!, a coalition to lobby the university's administration to remove all questions on conviction histories from the school's undergraduate application, questions which disproportionately affect people of color. He is currently working with other young leaders on establishing a formal youth alliance on Chicago's Southeast Side to serve as a local platform for youth engagement and empowerment, and is continuing to serve as a student coordinator with YES APPLY ILLINOIS! and as an undergraduate student senator.
Growing up on Chicago's Southeast Side, the daunting scale of the problems my community faced, from deindustrialization to gun violence, often made residents, and particularly local youth, feel powerless. I first started organizing during my freshman year of college when I interned with Participatory Budgeting Chicago, an initiative that helps local residents vote on how to spend part of their local public budget. Here, I learned two valuable lessons: (1) providing neighbors with a shared space and platform for connecting with each other sows the seeds of organic, positive changes in a community; and (2) there are not nearly enough young people engaged in my community. This past summer, other young leaders in my neighborhood and I started organizing a youth alliance focused on providing such a shared space among local youth. We are currently hosting youth-led workshops at local high schools and venues to discuss culture, identity, and community empowerment. On campus, taking lessons from organizing in my neighborhood, I have been active in YES APPLY ILLINOIS!, a student-led coalition focused on removing the invasive questions on conviction records from our university's undergraduate application and thus expanding access to higher education.