Daniel Rizo-Lopez is a 17-year-old Detroit native who works to beautify the city of Detroit and improve educational opportunities for youth.
By Cheryn Hong
Photography by Justin Milhouse
At age 17, Detroit native Daniel Rizo-Lopez is already a leader in his community. Rizo-Lopez, a junior at Western International High School, participates in three programs that uplift Detroit neighborhoods and youth.
Rizo-Lopez is involved with the Urban Neighborhood Initiatives, a Detroit organization that strives to build safe environments in urban neighborhoods where people can live, work and play. Rizo-Lopez has been an active member for five years. Through his work, he’s made an impact on his community, but he says his service has made an even bigger impact on himself.
“I used to be a shy little boy, and now I’m out here all outgoing, and I’ve been developing other skills such as my public speaking and not to mention my interview skills too,” he says.
Through UNI, Rizo-Lopez got involved with the Southwest Urban Art Mural Project, an organization that provides art education to the Latino community in Southwest Detroit. He has worked on two murals in dedication to Frida Kahlo and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. By designing and painting murals throughout the summer, Rizo-Lopez learned the value of art.
“I’m able to express myself through art, show others what I can do and just have fun,” Rizo-Lopez says. “Because in my opinion, the best part about art is getting messy and showing that you’ve done work.”
The 482Youth Organizing Collective is another organization Rizo-Lopez has left his mark on. The collective unites youth in Detroit to discuss and resolve education issues. Last month, Rizo-Lopez helped plan a youth-led conference with the American Federation of Teachers and the Detroit Federation of Teachers. He also planned the Un-Resource Fair, an art show dedicated to shining light on the few resources Detroit schools receive. Through all his extracurricular activities, Rizo-Lopez seeks to ensure everyone in his community is safe and well educated.
Edgar Gomez is UNI’s Youth Leadership Program coordinator as well as Rizo-Lopez’s mentor. Gomez, 28, of Southwest Detroit, works with many high school students. Yet, he says Rizo-Lopez’s compassion for his community and determination sets him apart from his peers.
“Every single time he’s received attention about his work, he makes it about helping his family, his community and his peers who deal with the same struggle that he does,” Gomez says. “It’s that right amount of passion that drives Daniel (and makes him) the person he is right now.”
Along with continuing his community work, Rizo-Lopez is prepping for college and hopes to become a mechanical and electrical engineer. He says he wants to create a business and donate to all the programs he’s been a part of.
“Daniel understands that when he does the type of work he does, he doesn’t just represent himself. He represents his community, his peers, his school,” Gomez says. “He knows that him succeeding is creating a pathway for others to follow — his siblings, his friends and the younger generation.”
Through his journey, Rizo-Lopez says he hopes he leaves a legacy — one that bettered his community.
“I want my community to know that good ol’ Daniel has made sure that education has strengthened and evolved to become something better than it is right now,” he says.
Daniel is a 2019 SEEN Young Changemaker. Read more about the finalists: