Triston Ezidore has a saying. He believes those closest to the pain should be closest to power.
Growing up, Ezidore knew never to get too comfortable. A lack of affordable housing drove his single mother to crisscross the country to wherever the “dollars would stretch longer.”
Ezidore’s on-the-road childhood took him through a handful of cities: St. Paul, Las Vegas, Syracuse and Los Angeles. It was “not ideal,” he said. He went through seven school systems before finding his home: Culver City High School.
For some, leadership is a burden; for others, it’s a calling. Three school board seats opened upon Ezidore’s graduation. Now a first-generation college student, he didn’t blink twice. With over 6,000 votes, Ezidore, 19, won the election in November 2022 to the Culver City School Board.
He’s the youngest elected leader in L.A. County and the first Black man to serve on the board.
“Adversity and life experience has led me here,” Ezidore said. “But, it’s also about making sure the bench is built and throwing down that ladder so [young] people can achieve and have a seat at the table as well.
Ezidore’s improbable victory reflects a lifetime challenge of finding his voice, threading the needle between his identity and advocacy work.
Born in Minnesota, Ezidore was raised by his mother, Hanh Pruitt, an “introverted” immigrant who came to the United States from Vietnam as a toddler. Growing up, Ezidore spent time at his Vietnamese grandparents’ restaurant. Over food and faith, Ezidore learned how love overcomes worldly barriers.
“It’s a very interesting relationship because my grandparents speak very little English. Having a relationship with them is purely emotional because it doesn’t show up through words, but actions and culture,” Ezidore said. “I think that’s wholesome — the bond we have been able to make [even though] we don’t fully understand each other.”
Minnesota wasn’t home for long. Ezidore, along with his mom and sister, Samone, bounced around the country to make ends meet. Money was tight, but Ezidore said changing cities pushed him ahead.
“[Moving around] gave me a bunch of tools that have helped me get to where I am right now,” Ezidore said. “It’s taught me how to meet new people, how to start conversations, how to be in new environments and speak with people for the first time.”
In Vegas, Ezidore went through grade school and learned the ropes of life without his father. It wasn’t until the fourth grade that his dad — who played little to no role in his son’s life — started to make an effort.
“We recount the stories differently. I say no [there was no relationship]. We weren’t talking every day,” Ezidore said. “We’re better now, I think we have an OK relationship, [but] there’s always room for improvement.”
Much of Ezidore’s childhood was marked by “uncomfortable” feelings of confusion over his race, sexuality and career choice. Standing at 6 feet 3 inches tall, the future elected leader shot down calls from his mother to play basketball.
It’s in Culver City where Ezidore found his voice and passion for activism but struggled like many of the students he represents. In high school geometry, Ezidore bagged a D.
“Math comprehension was definitely something that was super-hard for me to grasp.” Ezidore said. “My mom was tough on me. When we talk about stereotypes and cultural norms, doing well in school, getting good grades and getting into college — that was expected.”
Culver City’s “overwhelmingly” white and Asian populations, 56% and 18% respectively, Ezidore asserted, has left students of color behind.
“The data is telling us that our Asian students are achieving the highest in the district, and are achieving higher than our white students,” he said. “When we look at who’s underachieving it’s the other half of my identity, so I believe my voice is distributed equitably.”
A high school counselor once discouraged Ezidore from taking AP U.S. History over performance concerns. Ezidore ignored her plea and ended up passing the college credit exam.
“I think we’ve seen that a certain body for a long time wasn’t electing candidates that looked like me, so the resources and policy was only geared towards one specific student,” Ezidore said. “When only one type of person is represented in positions of power, I think that it trickles down and only supports those who look like those in power.”
Ezidore pointed out data showing that white male students are three times more likely to be reading proficiently in fourth grade than their African-American peers.
Susana Fattorini, a visual arts teacher at CCUSD, worked with Ezidore during the pandemic to put together the school’s yearbook.
“He’s an active listener. He takes note of what you’re saying. He asks you to clarify what you’re saying. I think in that way, he’s sort of a sponge for different ideas that help him crystallize his position,” Fattorini said. “He exuded a confidence that I didn’t have at his age and a confidence that people my age don’t have. It was remarkable.”
In his senior year of high school, students voted Ezidore class president.
After George Floyd’s murder, Ezidore joined a youth-led organization known as poc4change, which pushed the Culver City government to listen to the voices and experiences of young people. Organizing a march with over 2,000 people, Ezidore challenged city leaders over budgets and policing on campus.
“The best people — and the people that we want in office — are the people that we need to convince to run,” Ezidore said. “I ran for office because I fundamentally believe that the people closest to the pain should be closest to power.”
A “personal connection” to the role motivated Ezidore to run. Winning a seat on the board meant representing Aiden, his eighth-grade brother and video game “nerd.”
“I have to think about the whole district — there are more little brothers, more sons, more daughters, more people in the district,” Ezidore said. “We are all someone’s something and if it takes that personal connection to humanize and actualize the work that we’re doing, then we have to do that.”
Ezidore connected during the campaign with voters such as Disa Lindgren, a 1979 Culver City High graduate.
“Initially, Lindgren said, “I was surprised, thinking someone so young, running for a leadership position in our school board — is that a good idea? But Triston has proved himself to be extremely capable,”
“Triston is unusual as a human being because he really is thoughtful and intelligent but has this heart and spirit for everyone.”
For thousands of voters, Ezidore represented a fresh set of eyes to tackle decade-old problems.
“He was very honest about the challenges, but also very hopeful,” Lindgren said. “I found that really encouraging, because we need leaders that are real about what’s happening but also that have vision, and I feel like Triston was really that kind of person.”
If Ezidore is “real about what’s happening,” perhaps that’s because he’s in many respects, like any other 19-year-old college student. He’s a full-time student at USC studying political science.
Erik Matos, a West Hollywood planning commissioner, and delegate to the California Democratic party, recalled a January 2022 bike ride with Ezidore.
“He enjoys hanging out with his friends. He’s very, very personable. He’s a joy,” Matos said. “He’s kind of the first one to crack a joke or, you know, make the room laugh. And he’s got this really natural swagger to him. People gravitate toward his personality.”
That same swagger and energy have shaped Ezidore’s personal and political identity.
In February, the Culver City School Board approved Ezidore’s proposed Black Student Achievement Plan. The resolution lit a fire among some constituents, who said Ezidore’s leadership was emotionally driven.
“It’s par for the course for me, but what I couldn’t allow was for young people to see that public display of disrespect and to allow that to go,” Ezidore said. “It was important for me to publicly call out and support our young leaders because I think that as a leader myself, that’s what I would have wanted.
Still, the 19-year-old and his supporters feel considerable hope about the future of the board and Culver City.
“People need to see that something is possible,” Lindgren said.
As he looks ahead, Ezidore said he’ll never forget how it all began.
“It was just me, my mom, my sister, we were kind of all we had — was each other,” Ezidore said. “My mom shaped how I think. I lead with my heart. I think that it shows in my voting record and kind of the work that I’m pushing forward in the district.”