Over his career, Sean Elo-Rivera has made advocating for students a priority.
He has made it his mission to help create opportunities for students whose focus is split between school and life circumstances.
Through his work at Youth Will, an advocacy group that works to end youth violence and poverty, he speaks with college and high school students about their ideal world.
And since 2018, he has served on the five-person San Diego Community College Board of Trustees, continuing to work for students experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.
But now, as a candidate for an open seat on the San Diego City Council, Elo-Rivera is relying on students to get involved in the local democratic process.
“There’s really an incredible opportunity to reshape a society in a really positive way, but you gotta show up and vote,” said Elo-Rivera, who is running for the District 9 seat that covers neighborhoods of City Heights, College Area, Kensington and Mountain View, all largely populated by City College and San Diego State University students.
Elo-Rivera’s work has largely focused on providing opportunities for students whose basic needs are not met, like housing and food insecurity.
While homelessness is a major issue for the entire district, not just the county, it is one that is especially meaningful to Elo-Rivera.
“I battled homelessness as a law student,” said Elo-Rivera, who started at Golden West Community College before completing his undergraduate degree at Chapman University in Orange County and going to California Western School of Law. “In San Diego, my first semester of law school, I spent a month living in my car. That was really impactful for my ability to learn.
“I know what it meant to me as a young person when my family was struggling with housing instability and again, that really impacted my ability to learn and achieve my potential as a student.”
The city council candidate has since used his law education to ensure that students do not have to worry about anything other than their schoolwork while attending classes.
“I believe that voting is about power,” Elo-Rivera said, “and for young people, it’s about young people flexing their power to make the world more like they want it to be.”
Elo-Rivera’s urging comes in the middle of his campaign for a seat currently occupied by city council president Georgette Gomez.
Gomez is currently in her own race for a seat in the 53rd Congressional District against Sarah Jacobs.
The race to replace Gomez has been chaotic as Elo-Rivera’s opponent and early front runner Kelvin Barrios was investigated after admitting to misusing campaign funds for personal spending.
Soon after, Barrios suspended his campaign.
However, because his name cannot be removed from ballots this late in the race, Barrios could potentially serve on the council if votes for him outnumbered Elo-Rivera’s.
“A campaign’s supposed to be a job interview, and it’s important to have two people there at minimum for the community to interview, to vet, to challenge with questions,” Elo-Rivera said.
Many of Barrios’ initial supporters have rescinded their endorsements and some have moved to back Elo-Rivera.
If Elo-Rivera wins, he said he will step down from the SDCCD Board of Trustees as required by law — a person can’t hold two elected positions at once.
But he plans to use his new seat to closely partner with the district to continue serving the needs of students.
“We see voting as a tool to create the world that we want,” Elo-Rivera said. “The world that young people want is incredibly inspiring to me. … There’s never selfish demands put forward about one individual’s desires. It’s about making sure that everyone is taken care of, because that is what young people think is right.
“It’s not about ideology, it’s not about party affiliation. That is why young folks should show up and vote.”
Newscene multimedia journalist Noelle Mortensen contributed to this report.
Christina Painton is also Executive Producer for Newscene, San Diego City College’s broadcast news program. Check out the latest episode on YouTube, @sdcitynewscene.