Invited by Michelle Obama, a Santa Rosa teen spoke out against racism and for unity in front of a crowd of 200 people at the White House Tuesday.
Jayden Lim, 15, was there with her mother, Nicole Myers-Lim, to accept an award from the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program on behalf of Santa Rosa’s Tribal Youth Ambassadors. The local program also received $10,000.
The program was one of 12 throughout the country honored Tuesday by the first lady, though Lim was the only youth selected to speak.
“In some ways, I’m your average 15-year-old: I’m a sophomore in high school, I love music and I’m currently learning how to drive,” Lim said in her remarks.
But, she said, she also owns her own DJ business, and as a member of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center’s Tribal Youth Ambassadors program, is deeply immersed in her Pomo Indian heritage.
The youth ambassadors program was started by Myers-Lim, the Santa Rosa museum’s executive director, in 2010, and her daughter has been an active member since it began.
“Growing up, I knew the issues that the native youth faced in the classroom, but when I had my own daughter, I realized that none of the issues had changed,” Myers-Lim said.
Those issues include racism and ignorance about Native American heritage, issues that Lim said she still faces.
“I’ve been called ‘Pocahontas,’ and I’ve been asked if I live in a teepee,” said Lim, who attends Cardinal Newman High School. “And one year, I had to watch my student dance show run across the stage in headdresses.”
Through the youth ambassador program, she’s been able to grapple with those issues and learn how to combat racism and negative stereotypes about Native Americans in a positive way, Lim said.
“We are Indian and we are proud,” she said in her speech. “We still sing. We still laugh. We still dream. We still stand.”
In a telephone interview after the ceremony, she said she was still a little overwhelmed, but added, “Yeah, I’m good,” with a laugh.
“It was really nerve-wracking at first, but when I went on stage, it kind of just all went away. I just looked at the first lady, and I spoke to her from my heart, and she was crying and mouthing words of encouragement to me, so it was awesome.”
About 260 youth programs applied for the annual White House award. That list was narrowed down to 50 finalists during the summer before 12 winners were named.
The tribal ambassador program’s 20 youth — who come from Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties — most recently created and opened a museum store.
Before that, they created six native-language smartphone apps available from the iTunes store. The apps teach users about different California Native American languages, with a translator and an audio feature that lets users hear the translation in whatever language they choose.
The youth ambassadors also create educational videos for YouTube that can be used in classrooms to teach skills and history. One of the videos shows how to create a shell necklace and tells viewers how shells were used among California Indian tribes as a form of money.