The “Bear Flag Republic” Develops Young Leaders

The first cohort of MYLP students. My brother was part of the first cohort and brought back this picture.
The first cohort of MYLP students. My brother was part of the first cohort and brought back this picture.

The awesome thing about civic engagement is seeing young adults develop skills and then apply them to real life situations. Since 2005 I have had the opportunity to be part of an innovative program called the Muslim Youth Leadership Program (MYLP) which was created by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Sacramento chapter for CAIR California (CAIR-CA).

The annual conference brings together 45 Muslim high school students from across the state to participate in workshops on community organizing, leadership development, and public speaking. The participants, all coming with exemplary leadership skills in their own communities, take part in a “mock legislature” session and have the opportunity to serve as legislators, debating public policy issues and prepare bills they vote on later to the Senate floor for voting.

My favorite part of MYLP is watching the reaction of tourists sitting in the Public Gallery not knowing that these were students participating in MYLP.
My favorite part of MYLP is watching the reaction of tourists sitting in the Public Gallery not knowing that these were students participating in MYLP.

Since 2005, four hundred students have participated in MYLP, including my younger brother and sister. Over the years, the program’s graduates have gone on to become community activists – many of whom have created their own non-profit organizations, and taken on groundbreaking leadership roles.

This past weekend, MYLP celebrated its 10 years of existence! That is such an awesome milestone, but even more amazing is how the program has grown and impacted the students that participated in it!

MLYP Participants on the California Senate floor in 2011.
MLYP Participants on the California Senate floor in 2011.

One of the participants from last weekends new cohort, Bilal Mubarak from San Marin High School, epitomizes the reason I have been a cheerleader for this program:

I’ve grown up in a small community with almost no Muslim teenagers. I really wanted to apply to MYLP because I wanted to meet more young Muslims. I’m really happy because all of their enthusiasm really rubbed off on me. It was also amazing to learn more about politics and it has opened up a whole new field for me.”

Keeping in touch with the kids who participated gives me a chance to see them grow, but also its how I get to help them find new opportunities that they might not have known about. Its a great way to bridge the generational gap, and that sort of leadership is what I most appreciate about the program. I feel that I lacked that growing up, I didn’t have those older mentors nor the folks that took time out of their lives to invest it in giving me a leg up. But whats pretty amazing is seeing this program grow from a dozen participants (only three girls) to one of the most competitive programs in the community drawing close to fifty students from across the state!

The last cohort I helped out with in 2011. Took this picture from the Public Gallery because of I couldn't frame the cohort that attended that year from the floor.
The last cohort I helped out with in 2011. Took this picture from the Public Gallery because of I couldn’t frame the cohort that attended that year from the floor.
One person that does stick out as someone I look up to, is the guy that came up with this program- which was loosely designed off of a similar API and Latino programs that also takes place in Sacramento- Basim Elkarra.
The “Bear Flag Republic” was the short lived, and barely known name of the independent semi-nation of California that came into existence before he United States military arrived into the territory and took it over from the Mexican government. It represents a ethos though that is encapsulates the perception of California attitude of being laid back, innovative, creative and just awesome. MYLP is a great way to identify and develop young future “Bear Flag Republic” leaders. I am happy that I had the opportunity to be part of this amazing program!
(DISCLAIMER: I worked from 2006 to 2011 for the CAIR Los Angeles chapter as the Civil Rights Department Manager) Here are some other links related to MYLP Advice Part 1, Part 2, Part 3Part 4 and Part 5. Muslim adults can participate in a direct lobbying program called Capital Day, which is also run by CAIR CA.
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