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 Ryan Rossi, Community Leader and Co-Founder of the Youth Leadership Academy of Palm Beach County, Florida. The Youth Leadership Academy mission is to provide an expanded, nonpartisan, civic-minded education to Palm Beach County high school juniors and seniors, through unique and effective methods often not found in the every-day classroom. He earned his Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree in Political Science from Florida Atlantic University. Ryan is an inspiration to the youth that want to get involved in community service.

We caught up with Ryan to find out what leadership means to him and what advice he would give to the next generation of leaders.

Why did you choose this career path?

After graduating from Florida Atlantic University (go owls!) with a degree in political science, I decided to become a teacher, was hired locally, and taught subjects within my area(s) of study: American Government and Economics. It was during this time that I realized just how little many of the students understood about the nature of our political system, or displayed any real interest in wanting to know more than just a few basic facts. Rather than let this reality discourage me, I saw it as an opportunity to raise awareness, and with some creativity and support, I decided to work toward changing these attitudes. My involvement with local political activists allowed us to begin planning with a network of community leaders, and with this collective effort, the Youth Leadership Academy of Palm Beach County was founded, opening during the 2013 school year with over 70 students. The program brought students throughout the county in touch with elected officials on the federal, state, and county levels, as well as unique exposure to TV studios, and simulations on debating legislation. Understanding the deficiencies with civics education was the organizing principal to this program’s creation, and partly why I decided to get involved with co-founding it.

Who inspired you to get involved?

Ultimately it isn’t who has inspired me to get involved, it’s what has inspired me. It’s easy for all of us to have a hero, a mentor, or a family or friend to direct the majority of our inspiration to, and I can certainly list of a number of people in each category who have been instrumental in my involvement. However, much of my inspiration is cause-driven. It’s recalling my time in the classroom and seeing the need for changes to be made. It’s talking with fellow teachers, or parents, or students, and hearing their opinions and concerns, and being motivated to work toward some degree of improvement. It’s seeing what is happening in our local communities; particularly with our rising generations; and feeling obligated to leave them a world that’s better than the one we have today. It’s also part of the reason why I ran for the Florida State House in 2018.

How do you define a leader?

Leadership is more than motivating people or groups; I think that’s too basic. To me, leadership is about decision making and not always doing what’s popular, but doing what’s right. A good leader is principled in his or her beliefs, and is able to motivate through the example of that behavior; hopefully for some positive or collective benefit. I think many of the issues we have today stem through a lack of real leadership; we have become, in large ways, a society geared to follow; social media is a prime example of how following is now a standard of living. It is imperative for young people to adopt their own positions and opinions, recognize the need to make some critical changes for the future, and assume roles of leadership that will help make those changes possible.

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

Aside from my work in education, I recently ran for public office, which is the pinnacle of community involvement in many ways. It was an open seat for the Florida State House of Representatives in District 89, which spans the Palm Beach County coastline. Part of my motivation for running was to be a voice for my generation; millennials are now the largest demographic eligible to vote, and the issues we face today directly impact our future, and the future of our children. Sadly, not enough is being done to address many of these issues: education, climate change, and fairer economic opportunity; especially in terms of creating sustainable, long-term solutions. It was a true grassroots effort, comprised of volunteers, a low budget, and personal door knocking, and though I came up just short, I continue to make the issues I campaigned for a priority in my future work.

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

My advice to future generations is first, don’t be afraid to get involved; particularly with issues you care a great deal about. It’s easy to take positions and publicize opinions from the comfort of your social media forum of choice, but it’s far more difficult to physically work for the results you want. However, the actual work is far more satisfying, and can put you in a position to create greater, necessary, and direct change. I would urge all young people to run for office, on any level, and don’t be afraid if you think you may not have the means to do so; it didn’t stop me, and you’ll be better for it. Do it because you care, and that passion and sincere reasoning will resonate with your community in ways far greater than you might think. Second, don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way; there are a lot of people who will be willing to help you on whatever your journey might be, they just often need a reason to do so. Give them that reason. Be that reason.