UNITY names leadership team to support National Leadership Initiative
UNITY, Inc. has named two individuals with extensive experience in Indian country to spearhead the national Healing Indigenous Lives Initiative in partnership with the Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). The cooperative agreement provides funding to engage Native American youth and youth serving programs in a national initiative that builds on the successes of the past efforts and the Today’s Native Leaders program. Over the next two years, the initiative will hold six regional trainings to gather Native youth feedback on how best to support and enhance Native youth engagement, coordination, and action related to cultural prevention, with a focus on juvenile justice and delinquency prevention in Indian country.
LorenAshley Buford, (she/her) Yamassee of Florida, has been hired as the Project Manager for the Tribal Youth Development Initiative. Buford is the current hereditary Principal Chief of her tribe and continues to be active in her state-recognized home community while working abroad. Recently, LorenAshley has served as a cultural advisor for the PBS “Secrets of Spanish Florida” documentary on Yamassee history, and collaborated with University of North Florida professor Bossy to digitize tribal historic documents, while collecting oral histories research for The Yamasee Indians: From Florida to South Carolina book. She studied American Indian Studies at Arizona State University with an emphasis in Federal Indian policy, decolonization and historical trauma. She has been a passionate advocate for prison ministries as a proud member of Redeemer Apostolic Church. LorenAshley’s former years as a Prevention Specialist, GONA facilitator, ASIST trainer and grassroots organizer, have helped mobilize communities to address indigenous health disparities; such as the awareness of HIV/AIDs, substance abuse and suicide prevention. Prior to being named to her new position, Buford was the a UNITY youth leader advisor and Project Manager for the UNITY Wellness Warrior Project funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
“What I am most looking forward to in this initiative are the shared moments when Native youth, who may have been written off or told they are not good enough because of past mistakes, realize their leadership potential” explains Buford. “I am a firm believer that your own hardships equip you to help others heal and overcome their obstacles. I look forward the Regional listening sessions to showcase the resilience of Native youth and gather resources for people who may need additional community support. The advisory Peer Guide team embody servant leadership to the fullest and I’m excited to see what this youth lead initiative will bring.” Ultimately, traditional wellness teachings, youth empowerment and community organizing are Buford’s driving force.
Juanita C. Toledo (she/her) joins the UNITY team as Project Coordinator. Juanita is a Black Hemish womxn, and enrolled tribal citizen of Walatowa – The Pueblo of Jemez in New Mexico. She was born in Washington, D.C., and raised on the Jemez reservation. Since 2002, the UNITY community has been a significant part of Juanita’s life. Through her participation with her tribe’s UNITY-affiliated youth council, the Native American Youth Empowerment (NAYE), she was encouraged to run for office on the National UNITY Council Executive Committee (NUCEC), ultimately serving as a Member-at-Large, Secretary, Vice President, and Female Co-President, respectively, from 2005-2009. In 2016, Juanita returned to the organization as an advisor for the NUCEC, Lead Conference Facilitator, and a peer leader trainer.
That same year, Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO) selected her to join their recently-completed final cohort of AIO Ambassadors, an Indigenous-led leadership development initiative founded by Comanche citizen and national leader LaDonna Harris. Juanita’s advocacy work was highlighted in CNN’s feature of the Red Road Project, her fashion work resulting in similar appearances inside Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine, international editions of Marie Claire Magazine, and Native Fashion Now. While investing much of her energy into her Pueblo nation, Juanita has been equally successful in connecting her passions for strength-based youth development, creative expression, and personal wellness with UNITY’s Native nation-building work aimed at inspiring, mentoring, and actively contributing to the positive growth of Native nations.
“This opportunity is such a blessing,” shared Toledo, “every time I work with Native youth, I learn more about the resilience and tenacity of Indigenous peoples. It certainly has me looking forward to collaborating with the UNITY Peer Guides, my colleagues, and others also wanting to see a bright future for Native America.”
“We’re so fortunate to add two highly talented and passionate professionals to our UNITY team. They’re not new to the UNITY family, as each has been involved with our programs over the years. Their experiences and commitment to Native youth is commendable. With their leadership, we can expect to see some amazing outcomes with this initiative,” said Mary Kim Titla, UNITY’s Executive Director.
This Initiative is supported by a cooperative agreement (2018–TY–FX–K002) between UNITY, Inc. and the US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.