Leading in Public Service

Rose Park, we did it! I am currently the youngest elected official in all of Utah. A Mexican-American immigrant that grew up as an English language learner, low-income, and going against the school-to-prison pipeline as a boy of color. How did not only I get here, but we as a community making history? I want to share with you some reflections and thoughts.

I am Joél-Léhi Organista, born in Mexico City, but raised in Salt Lake City’s westside in Rose Park. I did all my schooling in the Salt Lake City School District, graduating from West High School with the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma. I did my undergraduate at the University of Utah where I created my own major titled Social Justice Pedagogy. I then taught at Horizonte for a bit. I got my first Master’s degree from Columbia University and my second Master’s in Business Creation at the University. I now teach a decolonizing leadership course in the Ethnic Studies Department in the University’s School for Culture and Social Transformation.

Joél-Léhi presenting at TEDx Salt Lake City in 2020.

I love to teach! At an early age, I knew I wanted to be an educator. In high school, I produced a film documentary titled, “Red Flags: Racism & Ethnic Stereotyping in Utah Schools.” UNP facilitated the first youth participatory action research program in the state and I was one of the first youth to be empowered through it. I had questions about why my peers were being pushed out of school and why I was the only Latino in the IB program at West High.

After graduating from high school, I realized the school board had a lot of power and made important decisions that impacted my familia, teachers, peers, and me. I started to pay more attention to what the school board did and who was on it. Then, in 2016, I helped my mom run for the school board. She lost by a little over 100 votes. She gave the example of what courage and being a public servant leader is. We then prepared over the next 4 years, until 2020, for me to run.

The pandemic threw out all the ways people had campaigned in the past. Luckily, my family and I campaigned hard and strategically. After winning the primary in July, against four other people, I became the front-runner. Then, I won in the general election with the help of each of the voters in Rose Park casting their ballots. Mine was not the only important race that won this historic 2020 election. We had other people of color win their races to also be on the school board. Additionally, other young people across the country won their races. There is a real sense of change in the air.

Joél-Léhi (center) with two of Casa Quetzalcoatl’s
2020 Xipetotec graduates.

I highly encourage young people to pay attention to what they are passionate about, what inequalities they know they experience, and explore the possibilities to find a career, role, and space that helps them thrive. If you want to ever run for office, just know that you can prepare for it starting from elementary school. Become familiar with your community’s needs and remember to be your best, authentic, healthy self.

To learn more about my work, please visit my WEBSITE. To learn more about Casa Quetzalcoatl and Xipetotec Graduation HERE

Text and content provide by Joél-Léhi Organista.