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.
For Kiyoshi Taylor, fighting for racial justice is a sense of duty.
“I don’t particularly enjoy or like doing any of this stuff,” Taylor said. “I have a lot of other hobbies that I have yet to find, because I’m always doing this stuff.”
But the Los Altos High School graduate steps up, because he sees a lack of voices calling for change. Over the summer, Taylor, who has led several local protests in recent years, organized his biggest one yet following the death of George Floyd. A large crowd turned out in Mountain View, filling multiple blocks as they marched from the corner of El Camino Real and San Antonio Road to Mountain View City Hall and back, demanding justice and police accountability.
For his work this year in educating and mobilizing the local community at a time when the country needed to again examine its tumultuous history of systemic racism, Taylor is among the Town Crier’s Los Altan of the Year recipients.
Along with fellow Los Altos High graduate Kenan Moos, Taylor formed Justice Vanguard, a coalition of primarily students, alumni and staff from the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, to continue fighting for reform in the latter half of last year. They worked to dispel the notion that nestled, privileged communities like Los Altos are immune from the evils of racism. Taylor, who graduated from Cal Lutheran University last year, can remember instances dating to childhood of experiencing racism from when he first started school.
“People are just kind of waking up,” Taylor said. “Even though we say we’re progressive, this problem is right here in our own hometown. This isn’t just a New York or Detroit issue. This isn’t Alabama or those Southerners’ issues. We do the same thing right here.”
Change and challenge
Taylor’s father, Ken, was a renowned professor of philosophy at Stanford University. Speaking to the Town Crier on the one-year anniversary of his father’s death, Taylor said his dad taught him to “question everything.”
“He was known for being a philosopher who challenged social norms,” Taylor said of his father. “As a Black man, that was unheard of. He always challenged race: What it means to be Black in America. What is race? When I’m on the streets, we have the same mentality.”
Taylor, with the help of Los Altos High School teacher Seth Donnelly, has been organizing protests in the area since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, dating back to when Eric Garner was killed by New York City police in 2014.
Donnelly commended Taylor, a 2015 graduate of Los Altos High, and Moos for their efforts this year. Donnelly has taught for decades in the school district, and has been waiting a long time for tangible change to occur. Taylor and Moos said Donnelly was integral in helping set up the Justice Vanguard organization.
“Not only are they extremely hardworking and determined to make real change occur in our community, but they’re also extremely sensitive and empathetic people, who really reach out to and connect with so many people of different backgrounds,” Donnelly said.
Their work is not done, but what Taylor has helped achieve is significant. He remembered a moment over the summer when he came across 20 white kids holding Black Lives Matter signs.
“I know these people don’t have that ability to just walk across the street and get some of that culture,” Taylor said. “They can go to sleep and it wouldn’t bother them. Nothing changes. They went out of their way to stand up, to fight a fight they didn’t have to. That just means a lot. Something about them coming together and saying, ‘Your life matters,’ it means a lot.”