Local high school student Josh Miller of Resilient Youth Foundation (RYF) was recently honored as a finalist in the Young Wonders category for CNN Heroes. In addition to earning a featured segment on Anderson Cooper 360, which aired December 4, the organization will receive a $10,000 donation from the cable news channel.
Miller, a 17-year-old senior at Samohi, launched Resilient Youth Foundation after the passing of his friend Eddie Lopez. Lopez, an AP student who played both football and baseball, was shot and killed in 2006 by a gang member who had mistaken the teenager’s identity. Prompted by the tragedy, Miller launched RYF as a means to explore racial inequality in the classroom and encourage achievement for minority students. Since its inception, RYF has raised over $21,000 in donations and implemented several successful programs. Amongst the student-run group’s endeavors is the Rewards for Results Program, which hosts special events for deserving students attending schools in low-income neighborhoods. Miller has also won the Princeton Prize for Outstanding Work in Advancing the Cause of Race Relations and was named an ABC Cool Kid. Additionally, he won Best Film of the Festival, 1st Place at the Santa Monica Teen Film Festival for the documentary Tracking to Nowhere, and also took home a prize for Best Documentary.
Miller’s achievements have only served to motivate him further. “We’ve been extremely successful with everything we’ve done,” he says. “Now that we’ve been really successful with our local programs, with the Rewards Program…we’re working on new branches of the program in the state and even in the country.” Miller, who recently left Samohi’s baseball team and his student internships to focus on the Foundation, has been approached by people who are interested in starting RYF offshoots in other cities. He says that the amount of volunteers has enabled him to delve further into the policy issues that affect the achievement of minority students in public schools.
“It’s exciting,” he says of this recent development, “because I get to work more with solving the problem than with just putting a band-aid over it.”
Miller’s latest project is Santa Monica Academic Responsibility and Transformation (SMART) Study Group, which brings together members of the SMMUSD to try and find a solution for the “achievement gap.” Results from the SMART meetings will be compiled into a proposal and strategic plan to be submitted to the District.
Certainly, RYF is a major commitment, particularly for someone who is currently working on his college applications. Miller, though, does not seem to mind.
“It’s really become a passion of mine,” he says. “It’s not really work because I’m so driven through Eddie and through the progress we’ve made. It takes up my time, but it takes up my time because I want it to.”