The Executive Team
Alvin Lee is the founder and Executive Director of GENup. In this capacity, he oversees day-to-day operations of the organization as well as strategic development and expansion of the organization as a whole. He began his foray into political activism after working for several campaigns as a younger child, and was deeply impressed by the sheer impact organizing can make on other people's lives. Alvin is deeply involved with political activism in his local community and beyond and found a spark for education policy and advocacy late freshman year. Since then, he's been extremely engaged in educational issues in both his local community and beyond and is excited to lead GENup in a new direction. Alvin believes that grassroots, community-oriented organizing is at the core of every successful movement. In his free time, Alvin enjoys music, hiking, and tennis.
Development and Fundraising
Gratia O'Rafferty is the Director of Development and Fundraising at GenUp. She got started working with GenUp to organize the Oakland March for Education, advocating for Schools and Communities First. She is passionate about education reform because she has seen the inequity within the education system and believes that education is the foundation of all other activism and students' lives. As Director of Development and Fundraising, she facilitates communication with the fiscal sponsor, oversees fundraising operations, and manages GenUp's budget. Gratia also leads and runs communication and relationship management between GENup's Executive Team and GENup's Board of Directors & Advisors. In addition to GenUp, Gratia is a junior at Bishop O'Dowd High School where she is the captain of the Speech and Debate team, which has pushed her to seek out opportunities to make her voice heard and engage in student activism. She is a member of GenUp's executive team because she believes that in order to see change, students have to help each other be heard and work together to confront issues.
Director of Outreach
Director of Communications
Sam Blattner is the Director of Outreach for GENup. Sam is a junior at Albany high school. Sam is also on the leadership team for his local Youth and Government chapter for the past two years where he has run statewide campaigns, planned and facilitated chapter meetings, and mentored young members. He is on the leadership team of SPEAK, a group of students from Albany High who educate elementary schoolers on issues such as intersectionality and racism. Sam is also a member of Peer Help, a passionate group of students who teach fellow highschoolers about mental health and provide sex education. Sam has been an elementary school classroom aide as well as an assistant at his temple’s religious school for the past four years. He is passionate about education and concerned about inequalities facing our school system. He is excited to be a part of GENup's executive team and looks forward to growing the movement to implement a positive vision for education across California.
Josette Thornhill is a junior at Aragon High School. As a journalism student and columnist for a newspaper, she tries to use her platform for advocating for social justice issues as well as trying to get students to read about politics and publish their own opinions. In her time with the San Mateo Activist Coalition (SMAC), she worked with other students from San Mateo County to organize walk-outs centering around sexual assault awareness and gun violence prevention as well as work on a documentary about structural racism in Oakland as explored through lead poisoning. In her free time, she loves to watch movies, practice photography and spend time with friends. Josette is excited to be joining the GENup team to learn more about education advocacy and how to support all students and educators!
Director of Innovation and Strategy
Director of Organizing and Marketing
Cady Chen is a sophomore at the Harker School. Having attended/experienced both public and private school systems, she understands the importance of educational equity and strongly believes that every student deserves an equal chance at success. She serves as the Director of Innovation and Strategy for GenUp and is responsible for identifying, developing, and planning new initiatives for the organization as a whole. Cady leads an innovation team that focuses on identifying new areas of potential development and growth within GENup to better allow us as a whole to promote our educational values and amplify our work. Aside from being an education activist, she is also a student researcher as well as a musician. She is deeply involved in her local community and looks forward to sharing her love for community organizing and education advocacy/activism to students across California, and with the rest of the GENup Executive Team.
Iris Zhou is sophomore from San Jose, California and goes to Leland High School. Through school programs like speech and debate, she became aware of social injustices and inequality surrounding our community today. Attending local marches and rallies such as March for our Lives and Women’s March helped inspire her to take a more active role in political activism, hence why she joined GENUp and helped organize our first ever March for Education in San Jose. She loves grassroots organizing and knows firsthand the importance of speaking up and persisting toward your values. As GENUp’s statewide Executive Director of Organizing, Iris oversees GENup's Board of Organizing and manages relationship between the Executive Team and GENup Chapter President. In addition, she oversees strategic expansion into new school districts and manages/facilitates State Council. She is excited to be a part of GENup's Executive Team and can't wait to lead GENup's strategic organizing efforts in various facets of education advocacy.
Governmental Affairs and
Josephine Cureton is proud to be GENup’s Director of Strategic Partnerships. Her role entails building and maintain connections with our 25+ partner organizations, ranging from teacher unions to youth-led civic engagement non-profits. In addition to her education policy work at GENup, Josephine currently serves as Chair of the San Francisco Youth Commission, where she focuses on justice issues and community engagement, volunteers for progressive political campaigns, and is the Western Regional Director at the Empowerment Collective, the youth behind the California Youth Empowerment Act (AB 1858). Josephine was also the recipient for the prestigious Cameron Impact Scholar. ,At Lowell High School, she was involved in her school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Program, serving as Battalion Commander and competing with the Lowell Exhibition Drill Team. She is a product of San Francisco’s public schools and will matriculate at Yale University in Fall 2020. She is excited to spread her love and passion for student activism, student voice, and education activism to all of CA's students through GENup's campaigns.
Benjamin Salop is a sophomore at Oakland Technical High School. Benjamin is passionate about understanding the community at large and loves to walk the streets that he represents and connect with people. Benjamin serves on Oakland's All City Council where he serves as the LCAP director, helping manage LCAP funding formulas from a perspective of student voice. He also sits on the Board of Generation Citizen, a national organization committed to lowering voting ages in elections to 16. He has also been an intern for the City of Berkeley and was likewise selected for the prestigious Coro Fellowship as a Norcal Fellow. He is also the Co-Chairman of the Oakland Youth Commission and was a Persisten for the Warren Campaign. Benjamin enjoys organizing and political affairs in his free team, and is a school site representative at his higschool. He is a proud leader of his student union and a myriad of school clubs. In his free time, Benjamin likes to learn new languages, go on long hikes with his camera, and tackle challenging projects. He is excited to share his love of education policy and political affairs with GENup and leverage his unique experiences to make an impact on his community at large.
Director of External Affairs
Director of Community Engagement
Jessica Riestra grew up in Santa Ana, Orange County and is currently attending Sacramento State! As the Director of External Affairs, she oversees and manages relations with current partners and identifies new issues of strategic growth, ultimately helping to build coalitions around issues. She currently serves as the Director of March for Our Lives California. Her prior positions include being the Western Recruiter for College Democrats of America while at the same time serving as the Secretary for the Refugee and Immigrant Caucus, field organizer for the California Democratic Party 2018, President of the Orange Coast College Democratic Club 2018, President of the Inter-Club Council of Orange Coast College, and Vice President of Communications. Jessica is working to pursue her Masters in International Relations while getting a doctorate in Chicano Studies. She is always extremely outspoken and active in whatever community she resides in and knows from firsthand experience the importance of a fair, equitable education system. Overall, she keeps busy doing community service within each region she lives in and looks forward to sharing her deep commitment to education equity and her vast experience in community activism with GENup.
Jessica Ramos was born and raised in Oakland, California. She is a first generation student and attends Skyline High School. As the Director of Community Engagement, Jessica establishes and creates strategies to better integrate GENup chapters within local communities. Her particular focus is how GENup Chapters can craft, shape, and lead their own local policy campaigns. For her role, Jessica focuses keenly on new organizing methods/strategies to foster, grow, and engage new student activism. Jessica is an active organizer in her community and school district. She was a finalist for California Student Board Member position, and currently leads her school's La Raza, Mock trial, and Tertulia club. Outside of school, she is a part of many different organizations such All City Council, Oakland Youth Advisory Commission, and Iceehouse. Her goal is to see Equity in Education across California and make a difference for black & brown students across her community and CA. In the summers, she also travels to Mexico City and educates/shares her love and passion for teaching and learning to students abroad. In her freetime, she loves to cook, hike, travel to gain different experiences, and dogs of course! She is excited to share her passions of addressing education equity through GENup.