The 35U began with a vision to inspire the leaders of tomorrow by telling them about the leaders of today. With millions of people involved in government, education, business and community service across the country, it sometimes may be hard for the 35U to connect to leaders individually simply due to an age barrier. The 35U to us is any young adult from the ages of 18-35 in this country. These individuals have a voice – they can vote, serve, and most importantly, they can make a difference for future generations.

Today’s Q&A feature is Gabriela Lopez, Commissioner of the San Francisco Board of Education. In November of 2018, at the age of 27 years old, Gabriela became the youngest person ever elected to San Francisco Board of Education.

Gabriela is also the Chief Academic Officer at Mission Neighborhood Centers, Inc. Her background in education extends over a decade through work in public schools, policy, non-profit, prison education and arts instruction. She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants who migrated to Los Angeles seeking blue collar work for better opportunities for their family.

Gabriela is an inspiration to the youth that want to get involved in education and community service. We caught up with Gabriela to find out what leadership means to her and what advice she would give to the next generation of leaders.

Why did you choose this career path?

I chose this career path in Education as a classroom teacher because being a student learning English, I wanted to be the educator that students needed to have as models. One who understood what it meant to be first generation, and what it meant to be low income. I later got involved in politics because of my work in Social Justice education in the Bay Area, working closely with long-time community members and learning about organizing. 

Who inspired you to get involved?

I’m constantly inspired by the educators that I get to work with and has helped me grow in this work. People who are consistently working towards making things better for those they are serving is the definition of the teachers who inspire me.

How do you define a leader?

A leader is someone who puts people first. Someone who focuses on how to solve the issues that directly affect the people around them. A leader inspires others to continue leading, to get involved, and to be selfless.

What projects are you currently involved with in the community that engages the next generation of leaders?

As a school board commissioner, I’ve been able to work on various projects that will help future leaders get a better education and access to more opportunities. This work ranges from arts education, mental health support and more funding.

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?

Question everything! It’s important to ask questions in order to gain valuable information that will allow you to be a stronger leader and inspiration for others. And to remember that there will be issues people aren’t supportive of or okay with, and even though there
isn’t agreement, you’re there to listen and observe.