The 35U began with a vision to inspire the leaders of tomorrow by telling them about the leaders of today. With millions of people involved in government, education, business and community service across the country, it sometimes may be hard for the 35U to connect to leaders individually simply due to an age barrier. The 35U to us is any young adult from the ages of 18-35 in this country. These individuals have a voice – they can vote, serve, and most importantly, they can make a difference for future generations.
Today’s Q&A feature is Darrin Quiroz Camilleri, Michigan State Representative for the 23rd District, which includes the Downriver communities Brownstone, Gibraltar, Grosse Ile, Huron, Trenton, and Woodhaven. In 2016, At the age of 24, he became the youngest Latino and first Maltese-American in Michigan’s history to serve in the State House. Camilleri sits on the Education Reform, Energy Policy, and Commerce and Trade committees. Prior to joining the legislature, he was a high school social studies teacher in Detroit and a Brownstown Parks and Recreation Commissioner. Darrin is an inspiration to the youth in Michigan that want to get involved in government and public service. We caught up with Darrin to find out what leadership means to him and what advice he would give to future leaders.
Why did you choose this career path?
When I decided to run for office in 2015, it was for my students. When I graduated from college, I decided to become a teacher in Detroit. I chose teaching because I wanted to make a difference, but I realized almost immediately that it wasn’t about me at all. It was about these kids and what they had to offer. My students shared their hopes, dreams, and fears with me, and it inspired me to run for office because I knew they deserved better. All children deserve a strong advocate in the legislature, and I work every day to be that advocate.
Who inspired you to get involved?
Aside from my students, my family played a huge role in inspiring me to get involved. I have ancestors from Mexico and my father is from Malta, so my family is living the American Dream. As proud son and grandson of union auto workers, I know that my family has worked hard to give me every opportunity possible. This legacy of generations of hard work informs everything I do. Whether it was being the first in my family to graduate from college, becoming a teacher, or today being privileged enough to represent the people of the 23rd District in Lansing, I know none of it would have been possible without the tireless efforts of those who came before me.
How do you define a leader?
I would define a leader as someone who has a definite plan for the future, but also always makes sure to listen to and incorporate others’ ideas into that vision. In my line of work in particular, being a leader also involves knowing the difference between building power vs. extracting effort. When you build power in a staff member, community member, or volunteer, you are making them a central part of the movement and giving them the tools to succeed. When you’re extracting effort, you’re using people without making them feel like a productive and important member of the team, and that’s not what leaders do.
What projects are you currently involved with in the community that engages the next generation of leaders?
One of the local projects I’m proudest of is helping a group of students relaunch a group called the Downriver Dearborn Young Democrats. This group seeks to enact change through community organizing around progressive issues, and at the first meeting of the year, over one hundred young people showed up. Young people around here are seeking an outlet and ways to get involved, and I’m honored to be a continued part of it as we get ready for 2018.
What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?
Far too often, young people are turned off by politics because no one pays attention to them. I had a hard time getting involved in local politics myself initially, and it wasn’t for my lack of interest but rather that so few people took me seriously. In my capacity as an elected official and more visible community member now, I encourage promising young people to get involved every chance I get. We’re seeing now that if young people are encouraged to organize and run for office, they can make a huge difference. I am so excited to see what the future holds for this next generation of leaders as they realize their own power and take action in their communities around our state and around the country.