Bank of America announces Inland Empire 2021 Student Leaders

Photo Bank of America: The four Inland Empire high school juniors and seniors that have been selected as Student Leaders are (L-R) Diego Martinez - West Valley High, Emmanuel Okeke - Summit High, Diya Theodore - Redlands High, and Jamaal Willis - Barstow High. They have begun their paid summer internship experience with local nonprofits KVCR, Inland Empire Community Foundation, One Future Coachella and Riverside Art Museum.

Bank of America recently announced that four Inland Empire high school juniors and seniors have been selected as Student Leaders (#BofAStudentLeaders). They have started their paid summer internship experience with local nonprofits KVCR, Inland Empire Community Foundation, One Future Coachella and Riverside Art Museum and will earn $17 per hour and receive a Chromebook as part of the internship. Similar to last year, the program has been adapted to a virtual format.

Without access to career skills-building opportunities like the Student Leaders program, many young people may be left behind from a fast-changing job market, leading to higher rates of youth unemployment. As part of its commitment to workforce development as a pathway to economic mobility, Bank of America is connecting 500 teens and young adults to paid jobs, job training and internships across the Inland Empire through additional programs such as Youth Action Project, Athletes for Life and Goodwill Industries of Southern California.

“Bank of America remains committed to supporting young adults by connecting them to jobs, community engagement opportunities and leadership development,” said Bansree Parikh, Inland Empire president, Bank of America. “We recognize young adults are the future of our community, which is why programs like Student Leaders are one way we can provide paid opportunities for students to gain job experience while developing a diverse pipeline of talent as they enter the local workforce.”

The Class of 2021 Inland Empire Bank of America Student Leaders are:

  • Diego Martinez, Hemet, West Valley High School
  • Emmanuel Okeke, Fontana, Summit High School
  • Diya Theodore, Riverside, Redlands High School
  • Jamaal Willis, Apple Valley, Barstow High School

These four students are not only at the top of their classes, but each has proven to be dedicated members of the community and overcome unique challenges along their roads to success:

  • A child of immigrants, Diego didn’t have your typical childhood. His family went through financial hardships and experienced homelessness, and he recalls often sleeping on couches and in hotel rooms. His experiences inspired him to get involved in politics and advocate for underrepresented communities. He has interned and volunteered with Congressman Raul Ruiz, a candidate in Hemet, and even co-founded a nonprofit to connect teens with senior citizens to teach them how to operate their smart devices. He’s also ranked in the top 1% of his class for academics.
  • At an early age, Emmanuel noticed the continuous shortage of healthcare workers around the world and embarked on his own research to figure out why. His own drive and curiosity inspired him to do something about it on a local level. He started two club organizations at his local high school: one with Red Cross during the pandemic and the other to provide high schoolers with medical-oriented volunteer and learning opportunities. He also is part of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council where he has focused on bringing awareness to educational inequality within the City of Fontana.
  • Growing up as a second-generation Indian immigrant in foster care inspired Diya to become an advocate for social justice. She has worked with her local City Council and mayor’s office to lead efforts to fight racism, founded a UNICEF chapter and lobbied for bills that gave opportunities to other voiceless children, and is part of NGO We Make a Change’s executive team. Last year while fighting COVID she led a UNICEF meeting with Congressman Aguilar to help influence him to co-sponsor a bill that would protect vaccine funding for half of the world’s children — from her hospital bed. She was recently named as a Presidential Scholar, the highest honor that the federal government annually bestows upon graduating high school seniors.
  • As a first-generation Black and gay immigrant who came to the U.S. from Jamaica at age 14, Jamaal does not take any opportunity for granted. In fact, he started his own Black Lives Matter campaign to help fight for police reform in Barstow and went on to work with the mayor to share his message calling for change. Over the past year he’s continued to lead and inspire his classmates as ASB President, coming up with creative ways to reach out to the student body virtually, all while participating in his usual extracurricular activities and acting as a caregiver to his two and three-year-old brothers who were at home while his parents were at work.

The Student Leaders program, which started in 2004, recognizes 300 community-focused juniors and seniors from across the U.S. annually. The Inland Empire Student Leaders will engage in an eight-week paid internship and participate in programming that includes a collaborative, mentor-focused project working closely with their nonprofit internship employers.

As part of this summer’s program, Student Leaders will also take part in a virtual Summit in partnership with the Close-Up Foundation to participate in Stanford University’s Young Democracy at Home program, which encourages conversation about current issues facing young people today.