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PEN America and the Golden State Readers’ Freedom to Read Leadership Institute

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APPLICATION DEADLINE FOR HIGH SCHOOL Students: Friday, March 27th at 11:59 p.m. P.T.


PEN America and the Golden State Readers, a student-led organization comprising PEN America student alumni from across California, are teaming up to co-host the first-ever Freedom to Read Leadership Institute this spring! This in-person, three-part training program for high school students will prepare and certify the next generation of Southern California free expression leaders to advocate for the freedom to read in their schools, libraries, and communities across the state and beyond.

The program will begin with students attending a “Freedom to Read Essentials” crash course and an advocacy project design workshop organized by Golden State Reader student leaders on Saturday, March 30. Following the workshop, students will work in groups to develop their projects into proposals for presentation on the final day of the program. On April 20, Institute participants will also attend a local Freedom to Read Community Summit in Orange County hosted at UC Irvine to see leadership in action as the Golden State Readers join PEN America, Diversify Our Narrative, the Public Education Defenders Hub, and other groups to discuss coalition organizing and anti-censorship work in Southern California. On June 1, the program will conclude with an advocacy project colloquium where students will present and discuss the next steps for local freedom to read advocacy in California. Students who attend all three sessions and complete the project component will receive certificates of professional achievement in freedom to read advocacy from PEN America and be invited to join the Golden State Readers.

  • This program is FREE and open to all high school students
  • Lunch will be provided on all three days of the program.
  • The final deadline for invited students to register is Friday, March 27th at 11:59 p.m P.T. Capacity is limited so please register as soon as possible if you plan on attending.
  • Exact location, building, and room information will be sent to registrants and parents closer to the program.
  • If you have any questions, please email us at [email protected].






Freedom to Read Essentials and Leadership Training

Saturday, March 30, 2024, 11:00 am – 3:00 pm

Santa Monica Public Library


Freedom to Read Community Summit – Orange County, California

Saturday, April 20, 2024, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm

UC Irvine


Freedom to Read Advocacy Project Colloquium

Saturday, June 15, 2024, 11:00 am – 3:00 pm

Location TBA



Our Partner: The Golden State Readers


The Golden State Readers are a growing network of students from across California committed to raising awareness about freedom-to-read issues nationwide. They work locally to educate, advocate, and fundraise to provide diverse and banned literature to students impacted by book bans. Follow their Instagram here.


PEN America Staff:


headshot of Nicholas Perez

Nicholas “Niko” Perez is the program manager of free expression and education at PEN America. Perez leads Next Gen PEN America, PEN America’s campaign dedicated to empowering a new generation of free expression advocates and building a youth advocacy network that can work together to facilitate positive change. Perez previously worked for the Columbia University Human Rights Advocates Program and consulted for the Human Rights Education and Training section at the United Nations. He holds a master’s degree from Columbia University in human rights and humanitarian policy and a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in international politics. He also was a Global Leadership Fellow at Waseda University in Japan, a Model United Nations advisor, and a forensics researcher for the Yahad-in Unum genocide research agency.