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Students Stand Up for Inclusion

By L'Oreal Payton
October 9, 2018

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re sharing stories from our diverse community of Latinx Fellows, Program Directors and staff. In this story, we’re highlighting a few of the members of Fuerza Latina, a student advocacy group at YES Prep Gulfton in Houston. OneGoal Y2 Fellows Ashley G., Fernando R. and Juan Carlos H., along with their Program Director Johnny Gonzales, share their story.

After attending YES Prep Public Schools’ inaugural Latino Leadership Summit in 2016, students at YES Prep Gulfton in Houston decided to start their own advocacy group to increase awareness about the Latino community and culture on campus.

What began with about 10 members as the Hispanic Latino Club has evolved into Fuerza Latina, which includes about 20 to 40 students meeting on any given day.

“We provide a safe space in our school to have conversations, share your emotions, and share your feelings.” said Fernando. “We stand by everybody who’s a DREAMer. We stand by their side.”

Several of the students involved in Fuerza Latina are also part of YES Prep’s OneGoal cohort at Gulfton. Their mission is to bring awareness of the Latino community and culture to campus.

“Our biggest purpose is to celebrate our identity; engage in leadership development; and take action,” says Johnny Gonzales, a Program Director for OneGoal and a Fuerza Latina sponsor.

And the students have done just that … starting with art as activism.

“They saw an image online and created small posters for teachers to post outside of their classrooms that read, ‘DREAMers are welcome here,’” said Gonzales. “It’s an open message to all students so they feel appreciated and supported by teachers. We didn’t make it mandatory, but 95 percent of teachers posted it.”

After learning of President Donald Trump’s plans to end DACA during the 2016-17 school year, the students created a mural outside of Gonzales’ classroom to express their support and solidarity for students of all backgrounds.

“They all come from different origins, but we want to show everyone we’re united and we stand with them,” Gonzales said.

In addition to the mural, the students in Fuerza Latina also planned a school walkout last fall to demonstrate support for undocumented students, and they organized a phone bank to call local members of Congress in support of DACA.

“The politicians don’t understand that this is actually people’s lives and this is actually happening to real people. It doesn’t affect one person; it affects whole families,” said Ashley. “People are getting scared. They don’t know what the next step is, they don’t don’t know if they can keep going to school. They want to graduate college and make their families proud. Just like any other American.”

And these inspiring students have learned that you absolutely don’t have to be of legal voting age to make a difference.

“You might be under 18 and think you don’t have a say, but we do,” said Juan Carlos. “If the vast majority of people agree on something and show the government, then that really does make a change, even though we’re just teens.”

For teens who want to get more involved in advocacy, Fernando suggests getting off the sidelines and getting involved.

“If you’re watching movements, you should definitely join and invest your time and thinking. Sit down for an hour and reflect on what you’ve contributed to society and what you’ve done for your community,” he said. “Don’t think you don’t have the ability to create change or you don’t have a voice just because you’re a teenager. You do have a voice. You do matter. You can make an impact. You being alive is important. Don’t be on the sidelines. Be a part of the movement.”

Ashley agreed.

“This is our future. This is our life. It’s important for us. We’re the next generation. We need to make changes that the older generations won’t make,” she said. “We want to scream, we want to tell everybody how we feel. We want to make a difference, like Martin Luther King Jr. I want peace; I don’t want racism and violence. We can be the first baby step for something amazing. We can do anything.”