Alumnus fights the good fight

Kiyoshi Taylor '20 is proud to keep up his family's long history of social activism.

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Kiyoshi Taylor speaks at a 2020 protest in Mountain View, California. The Los Altos Town Crier named him a Los Altan of the Year for his work “educating and mobilizing the local community at a time when the country needed to again examine its tumultuous history of systemic racism.”

Photo: Courtesy of the Los Altos Town Crier

For Kiyoshi Taylor ’20, supporting social justice causes is natural.

Taylor grew up in a family with a long history of activism and fighting for civil rights. A Buckeye kid who moved to California with his family as a child, he has deep family roots in Ohio — and in racial justice activism.

His grandmother helped desegregate a school in Dayton, Ohio, when she was a second grader. One of his grandfathers was a sharecropper until he was 14 years old. Another served in the military when it was still segregated.

He learned to challenge the status quo from his father, Kenneth Taylor, a former professor of philosophy at Stanford University who founded Philosophy Talk, a syndicated radio show that invites listeners to identify and question their assumptions. His family history helped form Taylor’s sense of advocacy.

“I come from a long line of family members who don’t back down … who stand up when something’s not right,” he said.

So in 2014 when the killings of Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice by police were in the news, it was no surprise Taylor took up the social justice fight.

“I was in my senior year of high school, and I said, ‘Enough is enough,’” Taylor recalled.

At Los Altos High School in Northern California, he reached out to his history teacher, Seth Donnelly, for help, and together they organized a protest march. “Six hundred people showed up … and that’s kind of what started it all,” Taylor said.

He has been active in the cause ever since, even though he slowed the pace a bit while attending Cal Lutheran as a multimedia major.

After graduating from Cal Lutheran in 2020, Taylor moved back to Los Altos, where he continues to be involved in social justice issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement. After the murder of George Floyd, he organized a protest in Mountain View, California, that drew more than 6,000 people. His friend and fellow Los Altos High graduate Kenan Moos organized a protest in a neighboring town that also attracted 6,000 people. The two started discussing how much more they could do if they worked together.

Those brainstorming sessions inspired them to start Justice Vanguard, an organization dedicated to creating change through education. They work to raise awareness of systemic inequalities related not just to race, but also to education, women’s issues and mental health. The pair have been working with area school districts on plans to require critical race education for high school students and to remove school resource officers from campuses. They hope the funds saved by the officers’ removal can be reallocated for mental health resources such as school counselors. They also advise other groups — including Black Lives Matter Ventura County — on how to hold successful events and further their causes.

The pair has completed a California 501(c)(3) application and hope Justice Vanguard soon will be granted nonprofit status. While they await the decision, they are raising funds for scholarships to be awarded annually to Black graduating seniors in the Mountain View Los Altos High School District “who have demonstrated a dedication to learning both within and outside of the classroom and who have a passion for humanity and the betterment of our society and world.” They plan to award the first scholarships to students in the Class of 2022.

Taylor recently organized a Juneteenth festival that included an auction to raise money for the scholarship fund.

He works full time in media marketing in addition to running Justice Vanguard. The work can be exhausting and sometimes feels never-ending, but he knows he’s in for the long haul.

“The burnout is real, and some days I just couldn’t care less. I just want to bury my head in the sand and scream, but I can’t because I know if I don’t fight this fight, no one else will,” he said.

Justice Vanguard’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. In January, the Los Altos Town Crier named Taylor and Moos as Los Altans of the Year for their work advocating for racial justice. Although Taylor was honored, the award left him feeling a little empty because he couldn’t celebrate with two special people: his father and his cousin, Christopher Taylor, who both died unexpectedly of heart attacks. He dedicated the award to them.

“Everything I’ve done since has just been … I try to make them proud every day,” he said. “And you know, I really think I have.”

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