Community crusader recognized

Ryan Page’s interest in politics and civil rights was sparked at a young age — in sixth grade, to be exact. It happened while he watched the 2004 presidential debates at Ocean View Elementary School in Arroyo Grande.

“I remember being interested in what the candidates had to say at a time when I didn’t know anything,” said 19-year-old Page, an Arroyo Grande High School graduate and now a Cuesta College student.

From that early exposure until now, he’s dedicated time to numerous social issues, including speaking out against last year’s hate crime in Arroyo Grande and helping to create a local coalition to promote understanding, respect and appreciation of people’s differences.

“A lot of good has come from being involved,” Page said. “I’m really encouraged by what I see in our community and from a lot of young people. People are willing to have these conversations. When we’re not, that’s when things get broken.”

Page’s accomplishments recently led The Caroline Huetter Foundation to recognize him. Founded in memory of Caroline Huetter, a 23-year-old woman who was killed in a car crash in October 2009, it considers giving an award each year to a young person who best exemplifies Huetter’s qualities of an open mind, kind heart and caring personality.

Page’s “positive attitude and his enthusiasm for making changes on a community level in support of diversity, equality of treatment for all and political consciousness-raising made him a natural candidate for this award,” according to a foundation news release.

Along with the award, he received $1,000.

Page said he was honored to receive the award.

“I particularly liked what the foundation stood for,” he said.

He said he plans to stay in the area for another year at Cuesta College and then hopes to transfer to San Francisco State University to study political science.

Page is also considering studying law, an interest that was sparked while participating in the county’s annual Mock Trial competition as a junior high student. He received an award for best courtroom journalist.

In high school, Page led the Gay-Straight Alliance club, and when he reached Cuesta College and learned its GSA club was inactive, he restarted it as a safe place for students to meet, talk and raise awareness.

When an 11-foot-tall cross was burned outside the bedroom window of a black woman’s Arroyo Grande home in March 2011, Page was quick to speak out, first at a city council meeting and later at a communitywide forum.

He also became a founding member of the Five Cities Diversity Coalition, formed soon after the incident.

“He’s a bright guy and he’s a brave guy,” said San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill, who chairs the coalition. “He may be 19, but he’s taken seriously as a peer and it’s refreshing to see.”

In the foundation’s news release, Page is quoted talking about how to create a better world in which all people are respected “and everyone gets a fair shot at their dreams.”

“It starts in what each of us can do to promote this in our homes, with our neighbors, at the supermarket, at city council meetings and with our friends. It is all about what we can do in our local communities.”