Reyna Olaguez Reaching back, pulling forward

Reyna Olaguez is Executive Director of South Kern Sol, a youth-led media organization dedicated to engendering a new generation of youth leaders and communicators engaged with the issues closest to them and their communities.

“I get to work with young people and be there with them as a mentor. My mentor was able to make my dream come true. If it’s in our hands, we should be able to do that for our young people.”

Living the Dream

I’ve always wanted to be the executive director of a nonprofit organization (and a movie star, but this is better) because I’ve always believed this is one of the best ways to have a real, positive impact on a community.

Now, I’m fortunate to be responsible for South Kern Sol, a youth-led media outlet that reports compelling stories about the health disparities that exist in under-served communities across Kern County. We’re developing thoughtful, insightful, and smart journalists. We are nurturing the great media storytellers of tomorrow by urging them to raise their voices today.

I connect with these talented teens, many of whom are immigrants, and bring unique perspectives and ideas to the stories they report. I, too, am an immigrant. My parents brought me to the U.S. from Mexico when I was just a year old. I grew up in Westley, Calif., a small rural community in the northern part of the Central Valley, and later we moved to Kern County.

My parents were brave to bring my siblings and me to the U.S., and because they did, I was inspired and determined to make a difference in my community, and I saw journalism as a path. With the help of a mentor, I earned an apprenticeship at Telemundo, and I never looked back. That job opened doors and my eyes to what is possible and fueled the pursuit of my ultimate dream: executive director of South Kern Sol.

Our media outlet was founded 10 years ago with the aim of telling the stories that weren’t being told by nontraditional (young) journalists with a fresh look. For many years, our stories were being told by other people who did not look like us, and often our stories were simply disregarded because we were from the outskirts of Kern County. People didn’t start paying attention to the issues and their impact on rural communities until we started writing our own stories and South Kern Sol began to flourish.

Defining the Central Valley

We are based in Kern County, but our stories exist throughout the Central Valley: the struggles farm workers face daily; the overall fears that grip undocumented people; the various environmental injustices that impact marginalized communities; the lack of access to affordable and quality healthcare; the sad fact that many families are heavily rent-burdened and so much more.

South Kern Sol makes sure this news gets to the right people. It’s critical and important to deliver information to the community in a language they understand and by people who look like them. This is what makes South Kern Sol stand out.

Reflecting on Systems

For decades, decision-makers and elected officials have not invested in communities of color. South Kern Sol aims to hold power accountable. Policymakers need to respect our communities and develop and implement equitable policies. Elected officials across California have discredited these communities for far too long. I see it up and close and personal in Kern County, and these challenges exist because of the embedded systemic racism that exists in local governments. We’re just starting to see Black and Brown advocates take leadership positions in local boards across Kern County. And more leaders are needed.

A Sense of Fulfillment

As I said, being the executive director for South Kern Sol is a dream come true for me. Not only can I help tell our stories, but I also have the chance to mentor our local youth to help them grow and become our future leaders and change-makers.

Our mission defies boundaries. Yes, we’re journalists, but South Kern Sol youth have worked so hard over the years to change our communities for the better beyond storytelling. Last year, we engaged in COVID-19 relief and gave $100 cash cards to residents who were in need (folks who were identified by our youth leaders and other organization leaders).

I am fulfilled by helping and educating people these bright young minds, but I’m also of this community. If I can help people and give to others who aren’t part of South Kern Sol, then I’m doing my job and so much more. South Kern Sol empowers people to find their voice and use it for change, and my dream has always been to educate the community and providing them with resources.

I am living my dream.

This story was produced by Leah C. Taylor as part of the James B. McClatchy Foundation’s Lifting Local Leaders initiative. The James B. McClatchy Foundation holds the copyright to this content, which is shared here under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.