Zach Magallanez, The University of Texas at San Antonio
As my time serving as a Texas Civic Ambassador comes to an end, everything that I learned during this last year - personally and professionally - will remain front and center as my career advances. This opportunity opened my eyes to the passion that young people around the state have in creating a better Texas for tomorrow. We want to work tirelessly everyday to educate, help lift voices, empower communities, and make sure that people know they matter in our democracy.
First, joining a group of young, dedicated, leaders from across Texas to share ideas on how to make civics fun and engaging for all is what made this opportunity appealing in the beginning. Texas, demographically speaking, is a young, majority-minority state. This group reflects what our state actually looks like and helped put into perspective how we think we can help create change. Hearing everyone’s story and why they chose to dedicate a year of their life to serving as an ambassador was inspiring and memorable. This group, no matter the difficulties along the way, remained focused on creating a project that would leave a lasting legacy. To that I say - congratulations! Second, are the professionals we met and heard from during this time. Although they had unique positions and different experiences, one thing that was common was their shared belief in creating change through service. They all shared ways in which we can create change by putting our beliefs into action and always remembering that democracy is better when it’s done right. Third, the Texas Civic Ambassador staff was absolutely amazing. From building on ideas for our projects to always encouraging us during check-ins and updates, I could not have asked for a more welcoming staff.
Lastly, my project and the future. I dedicated my year to serving and educating public housing residents. My project focused on civics and public engagement. I chose to work with this population because I grew up in public housing in San Antonio and still have family living in those communities. I also know from experience that sometimes those living in public housing automatically get a label attached to them and they may not feel that their opinions or voice matters. That of course is certainly not true. I wanted to teach families living in these communities that they do matter, and that it’s important to participate in our democracy. They learned a lot, from advocacy and grassroots organizing to submitting a request to their city councilmember about the traffic issues on their street. Although at the onset I set some pretty tough goals where I wanted to host two civic sessions a month for six months at several housing communities, I had to be realistic. I am only one person and I couldn’t do everything - especially with a full-time job and grad school. I had to reach out to partners and leaders for ideas and guidance. I had to plan out my project with the people on the ground -- residents, community ambassadors, case managers -- all of whom know the community. I scaled back my project significantly but I know that I made an impact in people's lives, even if it was only a small group.
Collectively, we all worked across Texas to take action -- from hosting campus-wide summits on civics to teaching high school students how they can participate in democracy and create change at an early age. Democracy works when we all participate. Texas is great when we are all represented. Communities thrive when we trust each other. I hope that our projects, small and large, inspire others to continue fighting for a better tomorrow. Many thanks to the University of Texas at Austin and the Annette Strauss Institute for the amazing opportunity.