In a letter to themselves, youth writers share what they wish they had known when they were younger
Dear Maria,
I’m leaving this letter in your crib to let you know that you’re going to have to look up to your paternal grandmother for help, not your maternal grandmother who you are living with now. When you’re around two years old, you will suffer the loss of your parents so don’t spend the rest of your years wondering what happened, move on and remember you have your paternal grandmother to carry you through life.

When you’re six you’re going to be traveling up and down the streets looking for somewhere safe to stay because your maternal grandmother got arrested for beating up her boyfriend, you’ll be confused but you’ll find someone who will help. Remember your grandma will always be there.

You will be in the hands of CPS after that. Make sure they don’t take you to a foster home, and if they do, be strong, two more years and you’ll be with your maternal grandmother again. For a year, think about how you’re going to get out of her house because if you don’t, you’ll be scared to call the cops on her and you will be beat over and over until you turn eleven.

Tell the police after that year that you want to live with your paternal grandmother. She will teach you the ways of life and to not only be street smart but she will teach you to be educated. God has great plans for you, don’t be afraid.
-Maria, 15


Dear Amelia,
Remember that you are beautiful and nobody is going to take that way. There’s going to be a time that you get back in touch with your father. Don’t forgive him; he’s only going to crush your heart. When Keshawn asks you to hang with him at his house, don’t go. When you’re in the seventh grade, someone’s going to try and race you in a drinking contest…don’t do that. When your stepdad Rick tells your mom that he’s going out of town to pick up some stuff for his friend…whine and tell him you don’t want him to go…go for your dreams and choose wisely.

And when you become a freshman, don’t mess up. So do what you have to do and it will soon be over. Oh and on your 14th birthday tell mom that you’re sorry for putting her through whatever the hell you’re going to put her through. And tell Tunome that you’re sorry if you guys stop being close and that she will soon get over it and have friends of her own. Just graduate and get a good job. Let mom know everything that you do so she trusts you. Oh yeah don’t rush to grow up because it’s gonna go faster than you least expect. Love you and be good.
-Meme, 17


I’m leaving you this letter because there are some great aspects in the future but there are more hardships, especially when you’re younger. At the age of 4 your “great family” will split up. Your mom will send your dad into bankruptcy and your dad will have his “lady friend” help maintain the house. You will move away with your mom and jump from school to school and house to house. Mom will not be able to hold down a job and family is a pointless option. There will be custody battles and barely seeing your dad because he only sees you every other weekend.

Then around the age of 6 you will be literally stolen and go off to a horrible place called Stockton. The days always look gray and you will have to wear a uniform at school. You will sleep in a rat and roach infested apartment where you barely have food to eat. Then around the age of 7, you will be evicted by the sheriff. At that same moment your 14 year old sister will say she’s pregnant and for some reason your mom decides to leave you with a friend and never come back…you have been abandoned with the lowest amount of self-esteem and unsure of who to trust.

But then some light comes through those gray clouds and you find the listing of your dad in the phonebook. He goes to get you but is disappointed with your sister. As you get to Fresno you realize your dad has a new wife and you’ve never met her but now she lives there with you. She demands and yells and at the age of 8 you meet the best friend in the world. Her name is Andrea and she makes life a little easier.

At that time you barely remember you have a half brother but he’s in and out of jail, and your 14 year old sister ran away with your mom again and you wish to go but don’t because it’s worse over there then at home. Put up with the yelling from your stepmom and do better than just average in school. And in the seventh grade your mom will pass away and you’ll reconnect with her side of the family and keep in touch. Then as you set into freshman year, do everything you can to get involved. I waited until senior year and regret it. Take care and God bless.
-Jose, Youth Leadership Institute


Dear Houa,
Things in life are the hardest challenges you will face. Remember to be strong and have faith. Many people including your dearest friends will judge and hurt you. Their happiest moment will be when you break down and lose everything. Just be yourself and don’t try to be one of them. People will like your true self and accept you. Live your childhood like a child with no worries and problems. Don’t fall in those “friend’s” traps they set up for you.

Back at home, many troubles will follow. Your parents will fight and not care for you. They have their own problems and your younger siblings to take care of. You got to be a strong leader to your sisters and don’t show any weakness. Build a strong relationship with your sisters because they will help you. Get along with daddy because he will listen to what you have to say. Listen to mommy because she will be there for you when you cry. Find yourself because you will need it the most.
-Houa, 15


Dear Ella,
As you grow up, things will come and go. You will experience new things and meet new people. You may feel like you need something, but honestly, you only need yourself to survive. The best advice I can give you is choose your friends wisely.

When you get to high school make sure you get active and challenge yourself and put effort into everything you do. Make sure you get involved and reach deadlines. Apply for financial aid and get a job. Apply for jobs and take every opportunity you have. Don’t get into a relationship with anyone. You don’t need relationships, just make really good friends.

Get to know people in high school and keep the friendships. Be safe. Don’t let people pressure you to do anything. If you ever do anything, be aware of the consequences and risks. Know your limits. Don’t ever let anyone pressure you to do anything. Don’t take anyone’s BS. Do things for yourself and God. There are times when it’s okay to be selfish and other times you have to consider others; feelings too. Be kind, but if anybody gives you crap, don’t take it. Learn how to be assertive. Growing up is going to be hard to not try to fit in. All you gotta do is be yourself and have fun.
-“Ella”, 18


Dear Fabian,
Right now you are young and full of life. Pretty much all that matters to you is your friends and family. I write this letter so that you know as you grow older; you will have to change the way you think and feel. Your career goals will change. Around freshman year you will realize that the only thing worth doing in your life is flying, being in an airplane far from the ground where you are free from fears and all the problems in your life just seem to fade away.

About half way through seventh grade you will find a place called the Boys & Girls Club where you will love to be. You will go on many exciting field trips like Disneyland and Universal Studios…all sorts of fun places. The people at the Boys & Girls Club will slowly but surely be part of your family.

Now there are some things I want to warn you about. First off don’t be so quiet…talk! Second, take chances like with girls and different opportunities that come across. Also at the end of your freshman year you will be asked to join the video production academy, join it. It’s pretty much the best decision you make throughout high school. You will meet new people – have a lot of fun. But don’t forget to join the baseball team it will take you a long way. Remember, stay strong, stay confident and always hold on to your best memories.
-Fabien, Boys and Girls Club


Dear Little Anjolina,
It’s not the end of the world just because you don’t hang with the other Asian girls. It’s okay if you can’t jump Chinese rubber band. It’s good to be different. It’s going to be alright because you have amazing people who love you for who you are, like Gabby. You’re going to meet a boy who treasures you more than life so it’s okay if you’re a tomboy. Don’t put on makeup!

One last thing, I would like you to know is not to be afraid of your daddy! Talk to him, hug him now and then. He’s your dad and loves you regardless of what your report card says. Showing some affection doesn’t mean you are disrespecting! Time flies by fast so enjoy every moment! There’s going to be some harsh times, but you need to be strong because you got this! You are awesome and always will be!
-Angelina, 17


Dear William,
With this letter, I’ll show you how to open up to the world and become something more powerful than you are now. Seek out the situation and find the solution. Because we’re here you have a voice – use it and show the world who you are. Every step you take is a door opened for you, so take the chance and use it. Growing older is not a game that is still to be played on the screen where mistakes are reversible.

Just don’t worry you’ll lose weight, the fat is just on there now, but don’t loose your self-esteem. Don’t get too pulled into cartoons, they tend to manipulate your mind into believing you are in there. Face the fact that this is the real world. Be open minded, and don’t care if anyone else is smarter than you. You have your own path to choose and accomplish.
-William, 17


Dear Judith,
You are a strong, beautiful young woman. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. As you grow, you’ll realize that life isn’t so easy. Judith, you’ll realize that you shouldn’t really depend on anyone but yourself and your parents, sometimes. As you mature, don’t be afraid to express how you feel about a situation. Don’t let your family or friends, or ANYONE change your opinion. You are in charge of your life.

You’ll need support from your loved ones, but don’t get too used to them always agreeing and supporting you. There will come a time in your life when they’ll disagree with you and try to persuade you to do otherwise, but don’t! Be who you want to be and place yourself first! Mommy, daddy, sissy and bro will come around soon enough.

Yes, there will be some choices that you’ll wish you didn’t make, but never regret them. It’s only a mistake, you need to see the positive from it and grow and mature from it. No one is perfect, so don’t try to please everyone. If they don’t agree, then so be it, don’t stop doing what you love to do.

When you grow you’ll see that poetry is awesome. Indulge yourself in poetry. You’ll find an escape in there. Express yourself as much as you possibly can and don’t hold anything in. you’ll only suffer with so much in you. Remember this quote: “tough times never last, but tough people do”. Be tough. Don’t let your guard down, with anyone. Judith, when your heart and brain say it’s okay for you to let it down, then go with it. You’ll come to realize boys are mean, but not all of them. Don’t even give up hope. When you feel you are surrounded by complete darkness, close your eyes and look into your heart. You’ll always see the light in there. Don’t let this light fade away because it’s your choice to let it go or not.

When you feel it slipping away, fight for it. You’re intelligent and you’ll know what is best for you. Put yourself first, always! Be tough when you need to and don’t let anyone change who you are because you know what’s best for you. Keep your head up no matter how hard life gets, you’ll survive and you’ll only be stronger by the time it ends. And don’t forget to smile!
-Judith, Californians For Justice


Dear Jana,
As you begin to grow up, you’ll learn that life isn’t always fair or easy but whatever you do just hang in there and stay strong! Jana, as you reach the ages of 7-10 you will learn that people can be cruel and crush your feelings. When it comes to that situation, believe in yourself and tell yourself you CAN, YOU WILL, YOU ARE!

As you reach the ages 11-13 you will see that boys aren’t the nicest dysfunctional things. You need to know that you have to keep your guard up at all times or when necessary. You will also begin to get teased at this age because of the way you look, dress, and the way you go about situations. Remember nobody can hurt you or make you mad without your consent. Hang in there and it will get easier. This is also a time where you will watch out for girls and learn they can be two-faced. Be sure to choose your friends wisely!

By the ages of 14-16 is when things get a bit crazy. You need to know that when you get a boyfriend don’t make yourself too available or make him your everything/priority when all you are is an option. You will lose friends because they don’t agree on things that you do. Know that you are your own friend and also make your family apart of that circle. They are really great people so hold them close and tight because you’ve already lost some of them.

Jana you are an intelligent girl and have so much potential to do or be whatever you want! Know that you are not alone in this world and you can always count on your family, be grateful for everything you have or get, and be yourself!
-Jana, 16

The kNOw Youth Media
The kNOw works to support and equip young people with the journalism and advocacy skills they need to tell their stories and the stories of their communities.

In 2006, over 25 youth began participating in weekly after-school writing workshops where they congregated in the hallway of a two-story building in West Fresno and learned the essentials of creating media and telling their stories. The group evolved over the next five years and is now proudly recognized as The kNOw Youth Media.

Through our program, we create opportunities for our youth participants, who in turn create long-term positive change in their communities. Our approach weaves youth development and youth media innovation to produce our biannual youth publication, multimedia projects, and community forums.

The kNOw began as a project of New America Media, which was the country’s first and largest national collaboration and advocate of 2000 ethnic news organizations. In 2018 The kNOw became a project of Youth Leadership Institute.

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