Join our Central Valley office for the 5th Annual Youth Summit!

CV Year-end Event Photo

Please join our Central Valley office for the 5th Annual Youth Summit on Monday, June 16th at 5:30pm.

YLI will be celebrating the youth who have mobilized and made an enormous impact in the communities in which they live this past year.

For more information, check out our official Facebook invite.  To RSVP, please contact Bao Moua at 559-255-3300, or at

Please bring with you non-perishable items so that we may help drought-impacted families in our rural communities where our youth live and serve.

We can’t wait to see you there!


Donate to YLI for Silicon Valley Gives!

SV Gives FB Pic

May 6th is Silicon Vally Gives! This first-ever day of giving will benefit nonprofit organizations in the Silicon Valley through a 24-hour online fundraising effort. Support YLI and our San Mateo office by donating through our Razoo page anytime between now and May 6th:

Thank you for making SV Gives a success for YLI!

Brave Work from our YLI Boys and Men of Color Fresno crew

There is another issue in our San Joaquin Valley that may not be making headlines, but is just as important as the drought, and we are pleased the president is once again showing strong leadership: Young men of color need more opportunities.

President Obama began the dialogue in his State of the Union Address when he said, “I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.”

This is the news that millions of boys and young men of color have wanted to hear. These words represent opportunity and hope, and now the president is keeping his word. Recently, The California Endowment in partnership with eight of America’s leading foundations, announced a joint effort with the White House to help America’s young men of color reach their full potential in school, work and life.

For too long, young men of color have faced extraordinary economic, social and political barriers. These barriers lead to incarceration, unemployment and a lack of an education. These young men are either pushed to the side, ignored or steamrolled.

There are many different numbers that help tell the story, but here is one key statistic: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 24% of African-Americans and about 16% of Latinos are unemployed in Fresno County. The highest rate of unemployment during the Great Depression was just under 25% for all working Americans.

Nationwide, there are already significant efforts underway to turn this tide. The Center for Urban Families in Baltimore is testing new ways to help men and boys who can’t find work. The Young Men’s Initiative in New York works with African-American and Latino youth to steer them away from trouble and toward opportunity.

But you don’t need to look that far to find progress. It’s happening right here in Fresno with the Boys and Men of Color (BMOC), which is funded by The California Endowment. We are an alliance of change agents committed to improving the life chances of our boys and men of color that include youth, community organizations, foundations and a variety of civic leaders in education, public health and law enforcement.

The BMOC efforts in Fresno began last year in Sacramento. Youth organizations were asked to send young men of color to the state capital so that legislators could hear directly from them. These young men delivered compelling messages about the effects that laws and policies have on their lives — both positive and negative. The result was transformative. It opened our young men’s eyes to a whole new world, and gave our elected leaders a chance to engage with a group that is too often ignored.

Our young men were empowered. They shared their hardships, challenges, inequities and successes and were able to deliver heartfelt messages directly and unfiltered. Then they carried that momentum back home to Fresno.

Our young men have helped organize health care events to encourage citizens to get enrolled in Obamacare, collected and donated Christmas gifts to families in need of help, produced a variety of art exhibits featuring images of our city, and joined advocacy groups focusing on youth incarceration, early learning opportunities and many other issues.

They have shown the commitment to helping others, as they help themselves.

We are building a strong alliance and we can use your help. Join us. We can increase opportunity for all Fresnans, regardless of race, by focusing on helping these young men succeed.

Let’s build a better and healthier Fresno together. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Let’s take the steps together.

For too long, young men of color have faced extraordinary economic, social and political barriers. These barriers lead to incarceration, unemployment and a lack of an education. These young men are either pushed to the side, ignored or steamrolled.

Alex Gutierrez, Cesar Rodriguez and Nathaniel Brown are members of the Fresno chapter of Boys and Men of Color.

Finding My Compass as a Compassionate Leader

Finding My Compass as a Compassionate Leader

Posted by C.J. Callen, Guest Blogger on Feb 19th 2014 at 10:50AM

The Spark for the Post
I recently attended a talk on compassionate management with LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and Wisdom 2.0 founder Seth Gordhamer. In the course of their conversation, Weiner made the case for compassionate management that focuses on the whole person, is grounded in empathic listening, and allows an employee to bring their “whole self” to their work. He also reminded us that it takes energy to work with people in a compassionate way. As a result, compassionate management has to be embraced by an entire company in order for it to succeed. He believes that compassionate companies are better positioned to thrive and so it is not only the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do.

The Quest – and the Messy Truth
I strive to be a compassionate leader (my use of the term encompasses compassionate management as well) and I realize that I have to do it on my own terms (though not alone). I am unlike many nonprofit workers – and it’s not just because I’m an introvert. Last week I was reminded of my “difference” while serving on a career panel for transitional age youth. During the networking period at the end, a young African American woman came up to me. She said she wondered what it was like for me as a woman of color to lead a nonprofit and that she would have brought up the subject in the large group except “you know, people act so uncomfortable when you bring up race.” My reply was straight: “It is really hard.” That prompted me to lay it all out: how you have to deal with ignorant and sometimes plain malicious people who think you are stupid and lazy, no matter the truth that you can’t go from the projects to Stanford University being either. The young woman said that, rather, maybe I’m perceived as a “triple threat” being Black, a woman, and smart. Her comments reminded me that even though people might be particularly doubtful of my leadership, I need to lead with compassion, which means showing compassion to my “haters.” The challenge for me is to bring compassion to all, even those who say, “No, you can’t” whether due to racism, chauvinism, or some other “ism.”

What Does Being Compassionate in My Leadership Look Like? 
I have compressed it into three basic things for me:

  1. Being in service to others – This basic posture and shift in perspective allows me to lead as best I can with grace and humility.
  2. Empathic listening – This strengthens my relationship with others and makes me a better servant-leader.
  3. Placing heart before ego – This is a key because it helps me do this work from a place of love and it keeps the ego at bay, the latter which tends to shift my focus onto all the wrong things.

The Twist – All Aboard!
To do more than strive and to actually be a compassionate leader within my organization, I need support from my board. They must embrace compassionate governance.

So the formula is simple:

I can’t wait to share our success if we become a truly compassionate organization. Along the way I will gauge our progress by asking the following questions:

  • Is our organization a place where people feel they can speak up if they don’t like how they are being treated?
  • Are board and staff empathic listeners?
  • Are emotions given their due?
  • Does learning trump criticism?
  • Is acting with kindness the norm?

But wait, there’s more! On the road to answering a resounding “yes” to those questions, I need help from my fellow nonprofit leaders. Will you engage in playful inquiry into compassion in leadership? Read on to learn how.

Radical Compassion
Here’s my call to nonprofit leaders: Let’s strive for not just compassion but radical compassion in our sector.

So what’s radical compassion? It’s a way of being authentic and using empathic listening to connect deeply with yourself and others. Visit to find out all you need to get started. Here’s an excerpt from the site that explains a little more about the concept and tools of radical compassion:

“Radical Compassion offers tools and practices to help you more fully integrate compassion and joy into your life and to support a world where everyone has access to resources to meet their needs.

These practical, learnable skills support:

  • Transforming blame and criticism into consideration and respect, through connection to the underlying needs that drive behavior
  • Discerning what is actually happening right now, distinguishing observation from opinion
  • Understanding the positive intention of our emotions: feelings indicate that something is important right now
  • Identifying underlying universally shared values to motivate and support connection
  • Informing creative choices that work for all concerned
  • Interacting with the dynamics of power in ways that increase cooperation and satisfaction in our relationships.”

For more inspiration –here’s a talk on YouTube on radical compassion.

Now you know that there’s actually a worthy pursuit that might even trump logic models and dashboards as the key to future of the nonprofit sector: On your mark, get set, GO!

And if you want to talk about it, shoot me an email.

C.J. Callen is the CEO of the Youth Leadership Institute and a board member of Bay Area Blacks in Philanthropy and The Whitman Institute. She has worked in nonprofits and philanthropy for over 20 years, including positions at Changemakers, Northern California Grantmakers, the Tides Foundation, and Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth.

Read C.J.’s other guest blogs for CompassPoint on leadership:

Eat Street Food with YLI at our Feb. 27 Friendraiser

YLI friendraiser

Join the Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) for food, drinks, and fun at the diverse and delicious SoMa StrEat Food Park!  Learn a little bit about YLI’s work, and help recognize the young people who are leading the way towards healthier, more equitable communities in the Bay Area and Central Valley.

What: Youth Leadership Institute “Friend-raiser” at SoMa StrEat Food Park
When: Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014.   Drop-by anytime between 5-8pm
Where: SoMa StrEat Food Park, 428 11th St. San Francisco, CA 94103

The latest issue of our YLI Newsletter hot off the presses!

In case you missed it, here is the latest edition of the YLI Newsletter.

In this issue:

A Glimpse into the Other Side of Marin County
Future Forward – How Design Thinking is Shaping YLI
Are We Sweet Enough? YLI Leaders are Serious about Policy & Equity
Relationships Matter: Building New Alliances

…and more!

To make sure you always get the YLI Newsletter, subscribe here.

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What’s Up YLI? The week of October 21, 2013

Keep posted on what is brewing at the local the local level with our digests of What’s Up YLI?

CENTRAL VALLEY CAMPAIGN KICK-OFF—in a few short weeks, our Central Valley team is hosting a county-wide “Community Campaign Kick-off”, connecting youth across YLI’s Central Valley programs, communities and initiatives to the four major campaign areas for this year (Social Norms; Schools, Neighborhoods and Boys and Men of Color). This event is an important step in actualizing a new way of organizing our work that links our network (base) with core teams leading specific campaigns for systems and policy change.  Can’t wait to learn more about how this approach works! For more information contact:

SOCIAL JUSTICE RETREAT– Marin pulled off an exiting and powerful Saturday retreat on October 12th, bringing together our Novato Youth Council and Marin County Youth Commission for a day of interactive learning and dialogue on the fundamentals of social justice, the sharing of personal experiences, and building of collective commitment for change.  Activities included a tour/scavenger hunt in the Canal Neighborhood, a low income predominantly Latino immigrant community that is home to some of our commissioners and a place that others had never been. For more information contact:

SCHOOL FOR FINANCIAL JUSTICE — More than 30 young people and adults from San Mateo County, SF, and Fresno came together for our first annual school for financial justice in partnership with Mission SF Financial Center.  By connecting financial literacy and capabilities training with solid political education we are building a new resource for young people to take action for our financial and economic futures.  For more information contact:

For more information on how your community can take on social justice education  and campaigns contact


Nutrition Soldiers MUNI ads are up!

Check out the beautiful work done by YLI’s Nutrition Soldiers in the Bayview, San Francisco!


Congratulations to the Nutrition Soldiers in the Bayview!! Youth have been working on a Make Nutrition our Tradition social media campaign to build the demand for healthy foods in Bayview-Hunters Point. Please keep an eye out for these advertisement on your MUNI route!
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When The Listening Stops

by CJ Callen, CEO on the first day of the government shutdown 2013

Today the government was not the only thing shut down. We also shut down our ears and stepped away from the listening that allows us to remain empathetic and engaged — despite our differences. I believe that we will only achieve real meaningful change through an intentional focus on working across divides and by reaching out to those who we would classify as “the unusual suspects.”

But how can we do this when the listening stops? The Republicans who engineered this shutdown have neither ears nor minds (let alone hearts) open to receive from others.

Here is the essence of what they are saying:

I’m right, therefore I don’t have to listen to you and I can do whatever I want to do because, well, I’m right!”

Is this the lesson in leadership that we want to give to our youth?

No. The example that some of our Congressional leaders are setting is counter to the one we try to set for youth here at YLI. It all served as a painful reminder of just how daunting the task of bridge building. Can be. We know that young leaders of social justice movements need a model of leadership that elevates relationship building and encourage to them to reach beyond the choir and create real intelligent discourse on our problems. However, relationships are not one-way streets and so what do you do to move people when they won’t even meet you half way? How do you respond when people have shut their ears and shut down conversation to the point they are willing harm others, including themselves?

We will continue to elevate the primacy of relationships in build strong movements for social justice and racial equity but we kid ourselves not: it is not going to be easy and in some cases the divides will be too big to traverse. But in every instance where we reach out and lend an ear (and are lent an ear), we take a few steps closer to building a connection with someone we did not see as part of our movement. Those few precious steps move us closer to finding solutions to problems that are real and sustainable, coming from a place of compassion and love.

IMAGINE what the headlines might have been today if all parties listened, focused on their relationships and anchored their solutions in love?

“What if the mightiest word is love?….”

from “Praise song for the day” by Elizabeth Alexander
Poem for the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama, 44th President of the United States of America
link to full text

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