It was 1989, and the Stylistics dominated the social scene in La Villita/Little Village/South Lawndale. The Stylistics were young, energetic, and as stylish as their name implies. They became a community within a community. Samuel Bahena was one such Stylistic. As the oldest of three siblings raised by a Latina single mother, Sam knew given and/or chosen family was everything. He didn’t expect to became a dad when his girlfriend got pregnant, let alone a single dad by the time his infant son, Sammy, turned 7 months old.

One of the greatest challenges for Sam in raising his son was rampant discrimination. Where could he diaper his young child when there were no “male” bathrooms with diaper changing stations, gender-neutral bathrooms, or “family” bathrooms? Another challenge was adjusting to parenthood--not knowing how to be a parent and feeling completely alone and unprepared at such a young age. Since Sammy was born just a few months after high school graduation, going to college was not an option. He worked and provided his baby with everything he needed. With the constant support of his mom, Vangie, and family, Sam raised his baby.

Like many people, Sam’s relationship with his mom as a young person was complicated. Despite this, Vangie stepped up and fully supported Sam as a single young parent. A few years later, Sam’s lifelong partner, Maria, stepped into his life. In their relationship, Sam experienced acceptance as a young parent without stigma or judgment. Sam persevered with his education and graduated from Columbia College in 2007. He became a father to two daughters, Laura and Sofia. Sam has served as the Assistant Director of Financial Aid at UIC for nine years, encouraging and supporting students to make the best choices in their educational journey.

Sam is a quiet person who leads by example. He's an avid environmentalist, supportive teammate, artist, marathon runner, and activist whose values align with ICAH on equality, inclusion, creating safe spaces, and using art as a cultural response to societal issues. Sam believes in birth justice and understands the intersections that young parents live in as they manage health systems, family systems, and school systems. He believes strongly in the power of the individual to make a change in their own lives as they continue learning and expressing themselves. Sam respects the vitality of young people and is an ally in the full sense of the word.