OC Human Relations invited students in Grades 8 – 12 to prepare a short, inspirational speech on why and how young people should take a stand against injustice. Over 100 YouthSpeak entries were received from schools across Orange County. The 3 finalists delivered their speeches to our Board and Commission on April 12.

After much deliberation, the Board chose Garden Grove High School senior, Christian Lopez, as the winner of the $500 first prize. Jennifer Ledesma, a senior from Magnolia High School and Westminster High School freshman, Samantha Rae Chestang, were the runners-up and will receive $250 scholarships. Thanks to our generous Board, Commissioners and Community Partners for putting up the prize money! Christian delivered his speech to over 500 attendees at Awards 41 on May 10, and, by the time he’d finished, there was barely a dry eye in the house!


njustice is unfair action or treatment towards others. But to me, injustice is assuming people in wheelchairs can’t dance, injustice is being treated differently because of one’s appearance, injustice is limiting abilities of the disabled, and injustice is neglecting someone for being abnormal.

But what is normal? It is a mold that society fills with perfection in appearance and mental capacity. Normal is being comfortable with what you have and making the best of it. Normal is different. Normal is in the eye of the beholder. Having muscular dystrophy, driving my wheelchair, and breathing through a trache tube is my norm.

Injustice affects me personally for being disabled. Being disabled means having the condition of being unable to perform physical or mental unfitness. The problem with the word disabled is that people put physical and mental unfitness together like birthdays with gifts. I grew up walking. By age five, my muscles became weaker which brought me to be in a wheelchair.

Losing the ability to walk doesn’t stop me from dancing. Having my wheelchair made me a better dancer. People see me and automatically focus on my disability and not my cognitive ability. Even though I’m not able to run physically, I can run mentally. My mind is my weapon to become successful in life. People like Franklin Roosevelt and Stephen Hawking had proven that sky’s the limit with knowledge.

Being the president of Bridges at school, I stood up for justice when standing up isn’t easy. I continue educating myself by attending conferences like Walk in My Shoes and becoming a youth organizer. I organized an anti-bullying campaign. Having a page in our school website where students can report bullying on campus anonymously to the school administration. Most important part when standing up for something is to know all directions and choosing what’s right.

I envision people making the disabled feel equal. Treat them the same while knowing where their limit is. I envision people guiding the disabled but not taking total control. Give them as much freedom as possible. I envision same but different. Don’t underestimate what their capable of even though it’s done differently. And I envision people using the only R word, respect. There is no need to force oneself to befriend the disabled, they just want respect. If lives were like shoes that can be easily worn and removed, then perhaps people would understand what it’s like to be disabled.

Jennifer Ledesma, Magnolia High School, Runner Up

Why should I, I’m too young.”
“Why should I, they won’t listen.”
“Why should I, I don’t have the power.”

These four phrases are the responses I receive from kids when I ask them why they don’t try to make a difference in the community. They are simply told they can’t, repeatedly throughout their lives. As youth, we are consistently told we are too young to evoke change. Whether it’s that cold directly, or sly indirectly, the inevitable outcome is still the same: we become unwilling to pursue change because we’re told we can’t.

But when did that ever work, really? It’s like if our parents told us to clean our room. How many of us actually would? My point is… as youth, how many times do we listen to others when they tell us what we can or can not do? Not much… which is why kids are making a difference. Today.

And I’ll tell you why. We don’t stop no matter what. Do you remember, when you were a little kid, and all you wanted to do was play? Run through the green grasses and soak up as much sun as you can get? And then we got older, and suddenly that wasn’t cool anymore. But did that stop some of us? No. It didn’t stop me. In my school this year, we led a campaign targeted towards eliminating toxic language on campus. In the beginning, when I began to point out to my classmates that some of their language may be hurtful towards others, they simply replied “I’m just kidding. You’re being too sensitive.” And it became really awkward with my friends and I, because they didn’t understand why I was speaking up at all. But even though I might have lost a social ranking or two, I didn’t stop. Because I knew if I did, who was gonna stand up for those hurt by those discriminating words? I know who. The kids would. Because now, the cool thing on my campus is to stand up for what’s right. Equality.

We are the faces of the next generation. The fate of our friends, the fate of our children, the fate of the world, lies on our hands. I believe the people of my generation have a brilliant intelligence that will lead our country where we need to be in order to gain true freedom. Acceptance. We are all the same. We all have a soul. No matter our ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, skin color, age, or anything other difference you could think of… we still all have souls. Every soul deserves equal treatment. Equal love, by anyone and everyone. I promise you that this generation is going to lead our world to that goal. After seeing what they could do as kids, I can’t even imagine what they could…. No… WILL do as adults. Actually, I can. It’s in my dreams every night, but hopefully, twenty years from now, it’ll be our reality, every day.

Samantha Rae Chestang, Westminster High School, Runner Up

Stand Up

My name is Samantha Rae Chestang, and I know teens can make a difference in the world. Young people should stand up against injustice because we, the youth, are the future. We need to learn to grow with each other instead of against each other, and prove to society that teens are capable of making a difference. In order to do so, we should start in our schools, community and most importantly, in ourselves. Together we can do anything we set our minds to. We can create equality for everyone. That means no more racism, classism, intolerance of religious beliefs and so much more. The BRIDGES program helped me realize that we have the power to make a change, and we can do it one person at a time.

Standing up for something you believe in is important to me because I know what it’s like to be bullied when no one speak up. My “friends” teased me everyday about my weight. They made fun of my appearance, I was called a mutt, and even excluded because I was multicultural. One day someone told me that when they look at me, they see a beautiful, smart, talented girl whose smile can light up someone’s whole world. Nothing and no one could have taken that away from me. Although I had some bad experiences, I’ve overcome so much. I knew that I was more than what people thought of me, and how I presented myself, so I decided to make a difference in my own life.

In 2010, I got involved with a club called Keystone within the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster. Keystone is about teens from all over the world who get together and find ways to help, and not just help teens, but everyone in the community. While attending the Boys and Girls Club, I also was a part of Teen Speak Up. We were able to go out into the community and ask teens to take a survey about how they felt about our society. Most of the teens that took the survey said that bullying was the biggest problem. I encourage the youth to start small in their community. All it takes is one voice to speak up for what you believe in. You can be that voice.

I was selected out of hundreds of kids to be part of the BRIDGES program and I’m very thankful I was. BRIDGES taught me a lot of things like integrity, honesty, awareness, self respect and, most importantly, self-confidence. Being a part of BRIDGES helped motivate me to be better in school, be a better person, and a good example for kids like me. Ms. Seema, my BRIDGES director, helped me realize that no matter what race, what religion, or how old you are, you can make a difference in someone’s life. She has been that difference for me. I would like to thank her for this. She gave me the heart, the mind, and the willingness to make a difference. My name is Samantha Rae Chestang,and I am taking a stand against injustice.