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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2015-11-25
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Gay student leader earns leadership post, learns life lessons
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Jason Carson Wilson

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Making equality a priority is one of Jose Aburto's accomplishments. Aburto, an openly gay 18-year-old graduate of J. Sterling Morton East High School graduate in Cicero, currently serves as Morgan East Gay-Straight Alliance (MEGASA) president.

Aburto has been responsible for a 300-percent increase—from 10 to 30 members—in membership. He helped orchestrate a petition drive on the Day of Silence, which garnered 900 signatures of the school's 4,000 students. Aburto remembered going from table to table during all six lunch periods.

"At the end of the day, I was shaking," he said. "People I never thought would be accepting...were. I feel, sometimes, [LGBT people] judge...we have to make the effort to contact them."

That proven leadership snagged the Northern Michigan University freshman a spot in the Bank of America Student Leaders Program. Gaining acceptance into the program earned Aburto an eight-week paid Little Village Boys & Girls Club internship.

He was among more than 220 high school juniors and seniors nationwide receiving internships with nonprofits in their communities and participating in the week-long Student Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. The summit left Aburto with indelible memories.

"It was amazing," he said. "Once I got there, everyone was so enthusiastic and accepting."

For example, he heard the story of David Kennerly. Kennerly, an acclaimed historical photojournalist, shared a story about overcoming adversity to achieve success.

Legendary actor James Earl Jones gave Kennerly a shout-out, according to . "David Hume Kennerly is just like Forrest Gump, except he was actually there," Jones said.

Kennerly, Aburto learned, has photographed several presidents—after encountering some adversity. Aburto said the famed artist shared those struggles with him and his fellow summit attendees. Kennerly succeeded in doing yet another thing.

He was "giving us hope," Aburto said.

Former First Daughter Barbara Bush discussed her non-profit organization, Global Health Corps. According to the organization's website, Global Health Corps' mission is create a community that aims to achieve healthcare equality worldwide.

Listening wasn't the participants' only activity. Aburto said they delved into many group activities, including a community service project—stuffing 2,000 backpacks (filled with school supplies) for children of military families. "It was really inspirational," he said.

Aburto added that while many students created their own nonprofits, the summit encouraged youth getting involved in organizations already serving their communities.

"I like to work with low-income communities and [LGBT] people in conservative communities working toward acceptance and tolerance," he said. "A lot of people are afraid to come out. I'd like to create a safe haven."

So creating his own nonprofit organization could be in Aburto's future. As a Little Village Boys & Girls Club intern, he's used a project to enrich lives of members with music. Aburto worked with about 100 children.

"I really love music," he said.

He organized an event that featured a choir of Boys & Girls Club members singing songs they'd practiced. Given music education's scarcity in school, Aburto felt the need to incorporate it into the programming.

"A lot of the kids have real talent," he said. "When I see them happy, I get happy. It really made me feel that I'm helping these kids."

Aburto's work earned accolades from one mother, who said her son couldn't stop singing at home. His internship ended Aug. 10—and he said he's more than grateful for the opportunities the Bank of America Student Leaders Program afforded him.

"I owe them my life right now," Aburto said. "I knew before starting that my life was going to change. I was given an opportunity to be a leader myself."

He said he hopes his efforts reveal something to the older generation.

"When people say, 'We can't take the younger generation seriously,' they're wrong," Aburto said.

The member of that younger generation still ponders his future—both far and near. Aburto thinks he might major in communications.

Bank of America launched the Student Leaders Program in 2004. Since then, it's honored 1,600 students around the United States.

"Preparing high school students for leadership is an essential component of our community investments," Bank of America Senior Vice President Diane Wagner said.

With that said, Wagner said the program helps some youth having difficulty finding jobs. The June national youth employment rate for those 16-19 with no disability was 33.4 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy.

That is less than the average employment rates for young people ages 16-19 during 2004 and 2005, which were 36.4 percent and 36.5 percent, respectively, the National Youth Employment Coalition reports. Interestingly, those rates set the record for the lowest youth-employment rates in nearly 60 years.

The added benefit of the Student Leaders Program-procured positions is the foundation of long-term success.

"[The] program connects young leaders with employment that helps to give them the necessary tools and resources they need to advance," Wagner said.

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