The Front Line Leaders Academy (FLLA) provides values-based trainings and leadership development to individuals seeking positive social change in their communities. We work with our network of alumni and Young Elected Officials to create a sustained community and comprehensive curriculum for each fellowship class.
Our vision is to create a new political system of truly representative government that amplifies the voices of youth and marginalized communities.
Fellows selected for the program participate in four three-day weekend training conferences over the course of the six month program. These conferences cover a wide range of political and organizing skills and tactics, including how to be an effective campaign manager, finance director, communications director, field organizer and candidate. By graduation, FLLA Fellows will have developed a wide range of political skills and have compiled a resources workbook that will help them to be effective local leaders.
MEET OUR 2019 Fellows
Meet our 2019 cohort of the Young Elected Official Network's Front Line Leaders Academy.
After a rigorous selection process that included nearly 100 applicants, 28 dynamic young leaders were selected from across the country to make up our latest cohort. At an average age of 27, 87% of color, 66% female and 33% LGBTQ, our fellows hail from 14 states and the District of Columbia.
22, New Jersey
Aaminah Bhat is a New Jersey native, recent graduate, and community organizer. She is the co-founder of Students of Salaam, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit that is revolutionizing migrant student education and community engagement by promoting a two-way street approach. Aaminah graduated from Yale University in May 2018, specializing in Global Affairs, political theory, and global health. She worked on Governor Phil Murphy’s campaign, served as a research assistant at the Yale Zigler Center for Early Childhood Development and Global Health Leadership Institute, and extensively researched social movement and migration theory in Morocco and Greece. She is currently working on policy for the Secretary of Higher Education of New Jersey. Aaminah is passionate about social justice, policymaking and soccer.
Aspyn Johnson is a recent graduate from the University of Iowa with a BA in Political Science and English. Originally from Dallas, TX, she came to Iowa hoping to leave with fruitful careers in novel and speech writing. Instead she found her niche in political activism and, inspired by experiences as a student leader, decided to work in politics to help craft people-oriented policy. She cares deeply about the American education system, is interested in exploring how tax policy affects economic mobility, and believes that strengthening civil rights ultimately improves our society’s political, economic, and social health.
24, New York
Brea Baker is a queer black millennial woman working at the intersections of race, gender identity, public safety, and community. Mentored by Carmen Perez, Brea understands that we need a multi-pronged approach to the complex problems facing society. Working across fields and industries from activism to the entertainment industry to electoral work to politics, she believes in the need for progressive policy along with a culture that reflects and affirms our right to thrive. Brea Baker currently serves as the Program and Youth Engagement Coordinator at The Gathering for Justice where she has worked with the Executive Director on campaigns like Colin Kaepernick’s #TakeAKnee, #FreeMeekMill, and #Justice4Pedro. You can also find Brea making space for people of color creatives in the animation industry with Black Women Animate, organizing with other youth through Women’s March, and supporting bold progressives running for office.
Chelsea Chism-Vargas is a first generation Iowan. She is proud to have been raised on the south side of Des Moines where she attended St. Anthony’s Catholic School. A graduate of Dowling Catholic High School, Chelsea continued her studies at Kirkwood Community College and transferred to Naropa University where she studied religious studies and women’s and gender studies. While enrolled, she provided humanitarian aid at the southern US/Mexico border, was a meditation leader, and helped organize a protest on campus against institutionalized racism, among other contemplative experiences. Returning to Des Moines, Chelsea was determined to continue in social justice work. She began working for Wells Fargo, but committed her time to volunteering for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. Through her years with Wells Fargo, was on the board of Latin Connection Iowa as Diversity and Inclusion Advocacy Outcomes chair. She now focuses full time on reproductive rights as the Iowa Outreach Coordinator for NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Coco Papy is a community organizer and native Savannahian. As the Community Director of The Creative Coast, she works to grow the creative and living wage economy in Savannah through the intersection of art, innovation and entrepreneurship. She is involved in numerous groups in the state of Georgia, including serving as the Chair of the Savannah Cultural Affairs Commission, a member of the Planned Parenthood Southeast C4 policy board, a board member with Georgia 9 to 5 Working Women and the Political Rascals PAC. She is a Step-Up Savannah Neighborhood Leadership Academy graduate, an advocating member of the Georgia Aids Coalition and a Highlander Education Center Greensboro Justice Fellow.
Cristina Gomez was born and raised in South Texas. As a nonprofit fundraiser, she has raised more than $550MM for worthy causes all across the globe. She serves on the Advisory Boards of Women Rising Productions, a media production company that champions the storytelling of inspiring female voices, and Street Business School, a nonprofit-social franchise that brings entrepreneurship training to impoverished women in the developing world. Cristina is committed to the progressive values of service and community. She has degrees from the University of Houston and the University of Southern California.
Donavan McKinney is a lifelong Detroiter. He was raised by his mother and grandmother, who taught him the importance of community and leadership. He is a proud product of Detroit Public Schools and a graduate of the University of Michigan- Ann Arbor, with a degree in Public Policy from the Gerald R. Ford School. McKinney served as a Legislative Director in the Michigan State House of Representatives. He is currently State Director for SEIU Healthcare Michigan. Donavan is truly a dedicated public servant. Last year, McKinney organized an 80 school-wide tour called the “Young Minds In Transition School Tour”, where he spoke with students about perseverance, following your dreams, and mentorship. McKinney currently serves on the Board of Directors for Bridging Communities, Inc. a non-profit in Detroit. He is a proud member, worshiper, and trustee at Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ in Detroit.
Griffin Gosnell was born and raised in Phoenix, AZ. After high school, Griffin attended Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA where she studied psychology and art. Post-graduation, Griffin spent two years working with City Year LA in high-need elementary and middle schools, acting as a tutor, mentor, role model, and running after school programs. She then spent a significant amount of time abroad, including teaching English in Thailand with Fulbright. She received her Master's from Thunderbird School of Global Management where she now works as a Development Manager - full circle, back in Phoenix, AZ.
Herasanna Richards is an experienced organizer and coalition builder with over seven years in community organizing, public affairs, and political campaigns throughout Michigan. She is currently the Executive Director of the Detroit Restaurant and Lodging Association and serves on the boards of the Pope Francis Center Magis Council, Ronald McDonald House Charities Detroit and Launch Progress PAC. Herasanna earned her BAs in Political Science and Communication from Michigan State University and she is a 2017 Michigan Political Leadership Program Fellow. Beyond her professional work, Herasanna is the co-host of Takeback Politics, a podcast focused on political advocacy and engagement for Michigan millennials.
Hugo Arreola - a community organizer in the phoenix area, working the last 6 years to help undocumented students go to college by providing resources and support. In 2013, he worked to elect Governing Board members to help bring back in state tuition for DACA recipients, conducts trainings for educators to understand their student’s struggle and provides resources for them to help students with links and information.
21, Washington, DC
Jamal Holtz, born and raised in Ward 8 of Washington, DC, attended high school at Friendship Collegiate Academy. Jamal is currently a POSSE scholar at the University of Rochester where he serves as the Vice President for the Student Government Association. When he was 16, he joined the Marion Barry Youth Leadership Institute where he served as the DC Youth City Administrator, and was one of the youth who fought to have the age limits on the Summer Youth Employment Program expanded and to obtain transit subsidies for youth commuting to and from work. His prior work experience includes working in the Mayor's Office of Community Relations & Services, serving as Community Outreach Assistant and Intern Coordinator. Additional work experience includes numerous political campaigns as a Field Director, Campaign Coordinator, and a stint as Program Assistant at the DC Department of Employment Services. Jamal serves on the Mayor's Board of Commission on Juvenile Justice, and currently works for LINK Strategic Partners as an Associate.
29, North Carolina
Jamie Hildreth is from rural Anson County in the southern piedmont of North Carolina. At a very early age Jamie noticed the social disparities on display in his community. Anson County is a majority-minority county, yet he realized that in his advanced courses most of his classmates were white, like him. Jamie knew that there had to a better explanation for what he was seeing. It wouldn’t be until Jamie attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he studied political science, that he was capable of articulating those observations within the frame of the complex systems that created them. While at UNC Charlotte, he participated in the university’s internationally ranked Model UN Program, winning Diplomacy Awards at the Regional, National and International levels. Jamie has been active in his local community where has taken on several leadership roles with organizations such as Charlotte Pride, the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party, Latin American Coalition, and MeckPAC.
Jeanina Juanita Messerly
Jeanina Juanita Messerly is a mixed-race Mexican-American woman who was born and raised in Fort Dodge, Iowa. She serves as the community organizer for the Latino Political Network and holds a BA in English through Buena Vista University. She is the daughter of small business owner Roger Messerly, who passed away from a rare form of cancer in 2014 and Angie Rivera who is a single, working-class mother. Jeanina was the first person in her family to go to college.
Jessica Rose Garafola
Jessica Rose Garafola is the Legislative Assistant for Florida State Representative Shevrin Jones. Born and raised in Connecticut, she moved to South Florida after graduating from Miss Porter's School. She received her Bachelor's degree in Biology from the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University, and then her Master of Health Administration from Florida Atlantic University. She is passionate about advancing policy that will secure a Green New Deal, universal healthcare, and educational equity.
26, North Carolina
Jillian is an Organizing Representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign and works with communities all across North Carolina to fight for clean air, water, and renewable energy. Previously, she worked as the Communications Assistant for NC State Senator Van Duyn. As a Community Engagement Fellow at United Way of the Greater Triangle, Jillian raised $2 million for community grants. Additionally, as an AmeriCorps VISTA, she worked with grassroots communities in rural NC to design and facilitate training programs for rural economic community development. She has certifications in Digital Organizing, Resident Leadership Training, Community Engagement, and Strategic Management. In the Durham community, Jillian is the Board Chair of Crayons2Calculators working to provide school supplies to teachers. She volunteers and holds memberships with ERA-NC Alliance, Durham Democratic Women, National Organization of Women, People’s Alliance, Jewish Voice for Peace, is a founding member of the Durham Millennial Caucus, and has served on the steering committee for Lillian’s List.
José “Che-Che” Turrubiartez is a rising senior at the University of San Diego where he majors in political science. Born and raised in Chicago, he advocates for human rights, emphasizing public health and the betterment of all people, regardless of identity. For years he worked as a health educator and connected underserved communities to healthcare throughout the Chicagoland area. Recently, the CDC recognized Che-Che for his work by asking him to be a spokesperson for its Spanish-speaking “Haciendolo” campaign, which aims to raise awareness for HIV testing across the nation. His passion for politics stemmed from this advocacy and community engagement and has led him to fiercely campaign on behalf of local and national political candidates.
Kevin is a critical care nurse practitioner from Miami, FL and has served in the Florida Army National Guard since 2010. A captain in the Army Nurse Corps, he is currently assigned to the Florida Medical Detachment (Jacksonville, FL). Passionate about improving health care access to all Floridians, his policy focus remains on expanding Medicaid. In his spare time, he runs a small street medicine clinic providing care to the homeless population of South Florida and works as an adjunct instructor at Miami Dade College.
27, Washington, DC
Krystal Leaphart is a passionate leader and emerging champion for intersectional racial justice. Serving her communities at the margin of organizing, advocacy and facilitation, Krystal has extensive experience working and volunteer with civil rights organization, civic engagement nonprofits and community service bodies. She currently serves as the Operations and Policy Associate at the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women, or NOBEL Women. NOBEL Women was established in 1985 as a national organization to increase and promote the presence of black women in government. As a facilitator and speaker, she has spoken about anti-black racism, elements of civil right movements and the plight of black women and girls. Some examples include the African American Policy Forum Breaking the Silence: A Hearing on Girls of Color in DC, and Young and Power Emerging Leaders Power to the People event at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference and the State Dept. International Visitor Leadership Program Panel discussion on "NGOs and Civic Activism" panel discussion.
23, North Carolina
Leila Barazandeh is an Iranian-American originally from in Carrboro, NC but now lives in Asheville in the Appalachian Mountains. Leila grew up in and around many beautiful and strong immigrant families. This has fueled a strong desire to fight alongside immigrants and refugees for their right to stay and thrive within the US. Working within the service industry gave her firsthand experience and insight into unethically low wages and poor treatment. Supporting workers’ rights movements is something that will always be a top priority for her. In the 2018 midterm elections, she was the Field Director for the Buncombe County Sheriff candidate, Quentin Miller. Sheriff Miller won by 62% and became the first ever elected African American Sheriff in Buncombe County. She currently serves as the President of the Buncombe County Young Democrats. She enjoys hiking, camping, and kayaking whenever possible. Listening to funk music and cooking Persian food are also among her favorite activities.
25, New Jersey
Luis Fernandez is a first-generation, nontraditional student at Rutgers University. He is an Equal Opportunity Fund Scholar, pursuing a major in Information Technology & Informatics, with concentrations in Social Entrepreneurship and Spanish. Luis served as the first Program Manager of the Google Community Leaders Program (CLP): New Brunswick. Luis is passionate about disability rights, serving as a Project Lead for Lime Connect and on the Youth Advisory Board of Easter Seals. Luis has also had the honor of serving as the first person in Rutgers’ history to be elected on the National Association of BIG Ten Students Board, representing 14 BIG Ten Schools and over 500,000 students across the nation on issues ranging from college affordability, mental health, and sexual assault. Through his work, Luis was able to give attend briefings at the White House, Department of Education, the United Nations, was featured on USAToday, has delivered a TEDx Talk, and was selected as the Student Keynote Speaker for the United Nations International Campaign, HeForShe, launch at Rutgers.
Magali Limeta is the Emergency Department Patient Access Coordinator at Marin General Hospital. She is the past President of the Marin County Young Democrats. She is passionate about healthcare, education, and immigration.
Mercedes Fulbright is the Texas State Coordinator for Local Progress from Dallas, Texas. Previously she was the former Special Assistant to the President at Paul Quinn College, a historically Black college in Dallas. Under her management, she assisted in launching the African American Leadership Institute, a Dallas-based think tank housed at Paul Quinn, for the study and advancement of public policy, economic development, civic engagement, and leadership development as it relates to the African American community and Black elected officials throughout the state of Texas. She previously worked for Young People For (YP4), a program of People for the American Way Foundation, in Washington, DC. While there, she oversaw their national civic engagement and voter mobilization campaigns. She serves on the Electoral Justice Project of the Movement for Black Lives, a project to build the largest Black political mobilization of Black people in the US that builds civic power and strengthens an affirming political vision.
28, North Carolina
Mohammed Jibriel is currently a senior at Queens University of Charlotte, where he studies biology with a minor in public health. His family is originally from Sudan, but he was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. After graduating from high school, Mohammed enrolled in a student exchange program in Moscow, Russia, where he learned Russian. Mohammed moved to the US in 2013 as an international student, where he first learned English. Since moving to the US, Mohammed has been involved in a variety of community initiatives, including serving as Student Ambassador at Central Piedmont Community College, where he worked to advocate for continued state funding for North Carolina’s community colleges.. Mohammed serves as Treasurer of the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC). He also serves as Deputy Chief of Staff of College Democrats of North Carolina as well as Chapter President of the Muslim Student Association at Queens University.
Natasha Gonzalez is a lifelong resident of Columbus, NE. She works as a substitute teacher for the public school district. Natasha recently graduated from Wayne State College where she received her BS degree in political science. She grew up in a family deeply appreciative of nature, the outdoors, and all living things. Natasha believes it is a moral responsibility to hold a deep respect for the environment.
Paola Lopez, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the Director of Student Development & Community for the OU College of Arts & Sciences. Her leadership has influenced the student experience in establishing the Multicultural Center for the Advancement of Students. In addition to serving as a diversity officer at the University of Oklahoma, Paola is an adjunct professor in Human Relations. Furthermore, Paola ensures student organizations engage the Norman and Central Oklahoma community, including Tomas Rivera Educational Empowerment Conference and Latinos Without Borders Camp (two of the largest Latino/Hispanic youth focused conferences in Oklahoma), Delta Gamma, Brazilian Student Association and the DREAM Act Oklahoma-Norman Student Organization. She also volunteers as a bilingual interpreter (Spanish and English). Complementary to community work, Paola enjoys the one-on-one relationships established through mentoring. She serves Oklahoma on the Governing Board for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Oklahoma and currently mentors students from south Oklahoma City through the Canaries Running Team and served as a life coach with Bridges of Norman, Inc.
Paul Vang serves as the civic engagement coordinator for the Hmong American Women’s Association in Milwaukee. As a former high school chemistry teacher, Paul is deeply passionate about educational equity and culturally-relevant education. In his work, Paul Is constantly envisioning and putting into practice new ways to engage his community in the political process.
Richard Garzola is an Afro-Latinx Samoan and the founder of Fusion Strategies Inc., a community relations/political consulting firm. After running for Tallahassee City Commission at the age of 22 and falling short, Richard was called upon by Mayor Gillum to lead his youth outreach and HBCU constituency groups statewide. Originally from Miami, Florida, Richard found his way to Tallahassee by way of athletics. Once he graduated high school, a scholarship awaited him to play football at Warner University. It was there in Lake Wales where he found the opportunity to organize the less fortunate and combat voter suppression in rural areas. In Tallahassee, Richard was able to carve a niche for activism by leading rally after rally and marches in the face of injustice. As he continues to be a staple for fighting inequality nationally, locally he continues to push for campaign reform and being a liaison between the government and the community.
Shelley Jackson was born and raised in South Phoenix, Arizona, is 22 years old and just graduated from Arizona State University with a BA in Community Advocacy and Social Policy. Shelley is currently the Communications and Youth Outreach Coordinator at Arizona Coalition for Change and Our Voice, Our Vote AZ which are both nonprofit organizations with a focus of bettering the community through advocacy and active civic engagement. Shelley is dedicated to her community and is excited to continue to learn how to make positive change through political and social action.
Apply for flla
If you are interested in being considered for the FLLA Class of 2020,
If you have any questions, please contact Josh San Miguel at
Do you know a driven young individual with a talent for advocacy and a passion for civic engagement?
someone for FLLA 2020!
Want to learn more? Check out these Frequently Asked Questions about FLLA
Frequently asked questions
Who should apply to the FLLA program?
The Front Line Leaders Academy is looking for potential Fellows who are interested in developing the skills needed to be a campaign manager, run field operations, execute a communications plan, raise funds, or run for office. Fellows will learn these skills from successful Young Elected Officials and policy and campaign experts. The ideal FLLA Fellow is someone who is seeking to build a foundation of political and organizing knowledge as well as cultivate a network of diverse, progressive individuals in order that they may become more effective change makers in their respective communities.
What is the age range of participants?
Progressive young leaders aged 18 to 35 are eligible to apply.
If I am currently in office, can I be in the FLLA program?
The FLLA program is designed to train young leaders to gain basic political skills and increase their level of civic participation. Individuals who are already elected to public office are not eligible to enroll in FLLA. If you are already a young elected official and are interested in fine-tuning your skills, please contact the YEO Network which specifically works to provide a network of support and resources for public servants just like you.
If I am currently running for office, can I be in the FLLA program?
FLLA Fellows must not be a declared candidate for public office for the duration of the program. Any Fellow who files to run for office prior to graduation will be terminated from the program. If you have previously run for office but will not be a declared candidate between March and June of 2020, you are eligible to apply. Please contact Josh San Miguel at for more information.
How long does the FLLA program last? What are the time commitments of FLLA?
From the first session to graduation, FLLA lasts just under four months. During this time span, FLLA Fellows attend four in-person weekend conferences, complemented by group and individual assignments between the weekend sessions. After FLLA concludes, graduates are encouraged to stay connected with People For the American Way Foundation to further develop their skills and supplement their work in the progressive movement.
2020 Front Line Leaders Academy Training Dates:
April: Field and Finance
May: Communications and Campaign Management
June: Final Assessments and Graduation
How much does FLLA cost?
There is a one-time tuition fee of $250 to be paid before graduation weekend. Scholarships are available on an individual, as-needed basis. You will NOT be charged any fees in addition to the tuition fee and the expenses listed above.
Travel, lodging, training materials, breakfasts, lunches, and other costs associated with programming are covered by the YEO Network and are not the responsibility of the Fellow.
When are the conferences? Are they required?
There are four, three-day weekend (Friday-Sunday) conferences that will cover five important topics: field, finance, communications, campaign management and candidacy. Fellows are required to attend all four weekend training conferences and must complete all assignments (which culminate in a comprehensive campaign plan) before graduation.
Still have questions?
Email YEO’s Advanced Leadership Coordinator Josh San Miguel at or give him a call at (202) 467-2368.