Modeled after Time Magazine’s annual honor, the Town Crier’s Los Altans of the Year, now in its 26th year, recognizes local residents who have spread goodwill through their good deeds, enhancing Los Altos’ reputation as a community.
Typically, the honors have gone to older recipients with a long, demonstrated record of volunteerism and impact. But 2020 was no typical year. It has forced us to see and do things differently.
We were struck by how many of our “heroes” were young people who really stepped up and made a difference. They did so despite dealing with their own challenges with remote education, cancellation of school sports and a host of other unprecedented obstacles.
Throughout the year, the Town Crier ran numerous stories of young people doing everything from delivering groceries to isolated seniors to counseling fellow students through personal crises. Regrettably, there are far more who deserve recognition than we have space for.
We ultimately selected five young recipients in three distinct categories: Angelina Lue for her COVID response; Riley Simonsen and Kelly Lam for their focus on mental health; and Kenan Moos and Kiyoshi Taylor for advocating for racial justice.
Kenan Moos would like it made known that he doesn’t consider himself an activist. For the Los Altos High School graduate, who mobilized a peaceful protest of hundreds of people in Los Altos after the death of George Floyd, working for racial justice isn’t activism – it’s problem-solving.
“I hate the word ‘activist,’” Moos said. “Fighting for your life isn’t ‘activism,’ it’s survival.”
Floyd’s death in May at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer sparked a movement across the nation, one that, at its core, educated Americans about the ongoing existence of systemic racism and, despite much progress, how far we still remain from achieving that perfect union.
For his role in bringing that movement to the Los Altos community, and his continuing efforts in fighting for racial justice and making the city more inclusive and equitable for all, Moos is among the Town Crier’s Los Altan of the Year recipients.
Following Floyd’s death, Moos joined forces with Kiyoshi Taylor, a fellow Los Altos High graduate who led a protest in Mountain View a few days prior. They created Justice Vanguard, a coalition of primarily students, alumni and staff from the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, to continue their work.
The group held events to educate the community, like a celebration of Juneteenth, the day slaves were told they were free. They created Black Lives Matter-themed artwork to display at Lincoln Park. And they called into city council meetings.
Their voices led the council to create the Citizens’ Policing Task Force to examine certain aspects of the Los Altos Police Department, and in November, the council followed the task force’s recommendations to remove the school resource officer program from Los Altos High and add a third-party auditor to receive complaints against the police department.
Moos, who graduated from Los Altos High in 2016, grew up attending Los Altos’ public schools. In a community where Black people make up a fraction of 1% of the demographic, he experienced racism and realized as early as middle school that his skin color made him stand out.
Moos’ mother, Toni, born in Trinidad and Tobago, tried to teach her son about the positive aspects of being Black – the culture, the cooking, the family roots.
“That was the only way I was getting the positive education of my Black side,” Moos said. “But otherwise, in school, it wasn’t
really like that.”
Moos, a senior at the University of Oregon, had participated in protests in high school, but only recently became comfortable with leading them. Growing up, he felt conflicted because he’s light-skinned – not “Black enough” for his Black friends and “definitely not white enough” for his white friends.
“I’ve always felt this weird tug-of-war between feeling white and Black,” Moos said. “I always have felt more attached to my Black side, but I didn’t feel like I had a voice until more recently.”
His voice is now out, and it helped spur a local movement. Moos is not one to get emotional, but when he looked up and saw the thousands in Los Altos who turned out for the protest – his protest – he cried. For him, it felt like the first time that something could actually change.
“This many people came out during a pandemic,” Moos said. “A lot of them – if not all of them – weren’t Black, because this isn’t a Black place. But they came out to march with me. They came out to stand for Black lives. They came out for this movement, and that felt really good and really empowering.”