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 Raquel Jones, Program Manager for the Young Elected Officials Network (YEO).  The mission of YEO is to exchange ideas, network with like-minded elected officials, develop leadership skills, and connect policy development organizations and think tanks. The YEO Network empower members to transform their political vision into action. Raquel began her career as a legislative intern in the Florida House of Representatives. There she managed constituent relations, assisted in organizing legislative events, and reviewed pertinent policy analysis in preparation for committee and constituent meetings. Raquel also currently co-manages the Front Line Leaders Academy (FLLA), and has seen the successful implementation of three local FLLA programs and a national program. Raquel is originally from Orlando, Florida, and is a graduate of Florida A&M University where she majored in Political Science with a focus in Global Security. Raquel is passionate about long-lasting progressive change through youth activism; she hopes to leave a lasting impact on her community.

We caught up with Raquel to find out what leadership means to her and what advice she would give to next generation of leaders.

Why did you choose this career path?

I recognize there are basic necessities to live a healthy happy life and I believe everyone deserves equal opportunity to have access to these necessities. I am aware of the systemic oppression that has historically marginalized my community and hindered our growth and I want to be at the table to create change. I want my voice to be heard —and I hope that by speaking up I will inspire and uplift the next generation to use their voice and collective power to create opportunities for our communities to flourish because I truly believe that long-lasting progressive change will come through youth activism.

Who inspired you to get involved?

There have been different moments throughout my life where different people ignited a fire in me to speak up, but my mom is definitely the earliest example of a leader who taught me to use my voice. I remember as a kid she would drag my brothers and I to school board, and local city council meetings, and I specifically remember her dragging me door knocking one time. We knocked our entire neighborhood to bring awareness to an ordinance that was not going to affect my family at all, but she wanted everyone to be aware of it and have the option to challenge it. At the time I hated it, but now I really appreciate her being an example. She taught me to not only stand up for myself and what I believe in, but for others as well.

How do you define a leader?

A good leader is someone who leads with empathy, who listens, and is able to organize people to accomplish a goal but also uplifts and inspires others to lead.

What projects are you currently involved with in the community that engages the next generation of leaders?

I am currently the Program Manager for the YEO Network, and in that role I am able to amplify the work of young people who have decided to step up and be a leader in their community. These young people are building communities that reflect the values of freedom, fairness, and opportunity for all. I also oversee The Front Line Leaders Academy, a leadership development program that essentially utilizes the experiences and expertise of our young elected officials to share knowledge with and uplift the next generation of progressive leaders.

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?

Get involved, be inquisitive, ask questions but also take the time to analyze and think for yourself. Lead with your heart and don’t let others dim your light!