CIF Alumna Spotlight: Lesly Tobon

Lesly (left) at the 2017 Critical Issues Forum Conference in Nagasaki, Japan

“I believe that the Nuclear Ban Treaty is the first clear step towards delegitimizing nuclear weapons and that youth must take action, so nuclear weapons are eliminated.” These were the words that I shared at the 2017 Critical Issues Forum (CIF) spring conference in Nagasaki, Japan that was organized by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in collaboration with several organizations in the city of Nagasaki. CIF is a distinguished program that provides curricula and instructional material on nuclear weapons, disarmament and nonproliferation, to secondary schools.

As a working-class Latina who has been funneled through the subpar public education system, growing up, I did not have the resources to take courses that exposed me to global politics. Nevertheless, determined to explore my academic interests, I joined CIF. Not only has CIF broadened my horizons by learning about global issues, but it has also exposed me to the prospect of traveling, connecting theory into practice, and creating social change in my community and abroad.

Since I participated in CIF, I have worked with teachers and students to foster productive discussions about disarmament, which has given me the knowledge and confidence to challenge the nuclear weapons status quo. Through my high school’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Club, I have taken the leadership to cofound the Nuclear Free Schools. This initiative ensures every student on campus is aware of the dangers of nuclear weapons. Inspired by this work, I co-organized the Youth Disarmament Conference in Los Angeles. The conference was attended by Shigeko Sasamori, a Hiroshima Hibakusha – atomic bombing survivor, and experts across the disarmament field. We had over 150 participants from 20 high schools and 13 colleges from across Los Angeles. I was among a group of individuals empowered to spread awareness about nuclear disarmament. As an agent of social change, this experience was powerful.

Lesly as a Youth Communicator

Organizing the Youth Disarmament Conference made me eager to gain a transnational perspective on nuclear weapons. As a result, during my junior year, I was designated as a Youth Communicator for a World Without Nuclear Weapons that was organized by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In November 2017, I had an opportunity to participate in the Forum of the Youth Communicator, as well as the 27th United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues in Hiroshima, Japan. Going abroad as a messenger for peace and disarmament gave me the tools to assist my club’s project, which explored the scientific components and humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons. Our project was showcased at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum Hall, where Nagasaki Mayor Mr. Tomihisa Taue and Governor Mr. Hodo Nakamura were in attendance. As a Latina, these experiences were not only life-changing but also gave me the confidence to become a socially responsible citizen who addresses domestic and global challenges. Disarmament became a life goal.

As someone who hopes to pursue a career grounded on social-justice, my participation in CIF has given me an insight into how nuclear disarmament diplomacy is conducted. I have had the opportunity to interview Dr. William Perry, former U.S Secretary of Defense. David Krieger, Founding President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and other advocates for nuclear disarmament. Moreover, I have developed my communication skills to converse with like-minded students and leaders and those with differing views. I believe it is crucial to gain insight into other’s perspectives, stories, and motivations. Even though we come from different countries, we embrace a common goal, which is to solve public policy issues that affect us all.

As a Youth Communicator for peace and nuclear disarmament, I understand how vital my role as an activist is now and in the future. I am currently a student at Pitzer College studying Political Science and Sociology. My participation in CIF certainly contributed to my decision to study Political Science. I will apply the lessons and skills I learned from CIF throughout my career and continue to be an advocate for a world without nuclear weapons. Last but not least, my CIF involvement has taught me one thing that stands above all: how valuable an education is for a Latina.