The Alianza Kermes and its signature Soapbox Speech Competition returned Saturday with an impressive lineup for young speakers and more than $4,000 in prize money.

Presented by Alianza and its Youth Organizing Council, the annual Kermes resumed this year after a pandemic hiatus. Seven YO-C members delivered short speeches on topics such as school safety, mental health support, and financial responsibility. A panel of judges with representatives from education, local government, and philanthropy scored each speech to determine the winners.

Thanks to a surprise donation from Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, Alianza was able to double the prize money going to the top three winners. That means first-place winner Rushil Ladhawala, who spoke about the importance of financial literacy for young people, took home $2,000.

Second-place winner Ashley Henandez received $1,400, and third-place winner Leonel Reyes received $800.

The Kermes is part of Alianza’s mission to transform the socio-economic conditions of the Coachella Valley by helping residents develop leadership skills and advocate for their communities. YO-C graduates often talk about how their participation in the program improved their critical thinking skills, academic ambitions, and social and emotional wellness. Confidence in public speaking is a big part of this.

[Read more about Alianza’s work in youth leadership development.]

Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez presented certificates to each competitor and to Alianza for organizing an event where youth speak up to seek change about issues important to them.

The competition, held indoors at the Coachella Library, was followed by an outdoor celebration with free games and prizes, food, and a live performance by the local band The Sol Suns.

Alianza Coachella Valley