As a freshman in college, I remember being introduced to an organization, Students for Education Reform (SFER, pronounced S-Fer). I instantly signed up because right there, in that moment, I was standing up for what I believed in. I discovered that there was a shocking power in my voice.
With SFER, I became involved in my community. I recall joining SFER and learning about the many obstacles that my community continuously encounters, specifically, the educational system that continues to create inequities and disparities that continue to fail students of color like me. I was overwhelmed by so much information and new knowledge. I was also overwhelmed by this new found sense of agency and purpose. I had found my passion and that was to serve my people and community, for it fulfilled me in ways nothing ever had. Education became, not my ticket out of my neighborhood, but a way to become educated and knowledgeable in order to advocate for the rights of my community.
History of Students Fighting For Better Schools One of the many things I learned as a freshman in college was the amazing mobilization that impacted the way I felt about myself for years to come. I learned about the 1968 East L.A walkouts and I was immediately astonished and empowered by the mobilization of students, Mexican American Chicano/a students! Students who looked like me, students who demanded more Latino teachers—who imperatively became mentors during my high school experience—and administrators; smaller class sizes, better facilities, and the inclusion of Mexican American history in textbooks. As a student, this made all the difference. I didn’t feel alone, I felt like I had a community to fall back on, a community that understood my struggle.
Many will say that the East L.A walkouts had no significant impact for students in communities of color, but on the contrary, although we currently see similar entrenched prejudice in the educational system the East L.A walkouts allowed for students like myself to be empowered, to claim our right to an education, our right to be in certain spaces that were not meant for us and that we are often times not wanted in.
Learning From Our Legends This weekend, the Students for Education Reform regional summit here in Los Angeles, hosted two inspirational individuals took part in the East L.A walkouts and the student struggle for educational equity: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Robert “Bobby” Verdugo. During this past weekend, their presence meant far more to us than what was apparent. Mayor Villaraigosa has constantly advocated and set high expectations accompanied by high support to serve all children despite their background. It was empowering to see him speak about the community he serves so passionately.
He made it clear that the job of the first is not to boast about his/her successes and accomplishments, but to deeply understand that it is important to have others succeeding with you. We have to maintain the door open and pave the way for others coming after us. Of course, his story resonated with so many of us, and personally, his story resonates with mine. I had immediate flashbacks of the inequities I faced and continue to face, the experiences and adversity that made me who I am and the untapped unsuspected strengths I have discovered.
Having Robert “Bobby” Verdugo as our second speaker inspired us all to continue to advocate for all students. It reminded us that the current system is not working for students of color. The system is failing us and we are often shamed and rejected for it.
Both speakers were part of the East L.A walkouts and Student Power struggles of the 60’s and 70’s and we were reminded of the importance of having student voices at the forefront of education reform. The East L.A walkouts allowed us to gain a political consciousness and ability to protest for what we believe is our right, for we can no longer be bystanders. It’s learning who we are, its learning who we should be, it’s knowing that the work that we do now will impact children’s lives in a positive way for years to come.
We Are Student Leaders Now & We Must Continue to Organize for Education Justice
As students, we realize that we can advocate for ourselves and surpass any obstacles. We have gained courage and bravery. No matter our path or profession, we will continue to be activists. We are empowered. We have a voice and we are not afraid to use it. Students like myself have found vested interest, dedication, and personal motivation to continue to fight for educational justice. No one can ever invalidate my experiences, look down on me, shame me, or make me feel less than what I am. You can no longer deny my presence and my existence. I am empowered. This is no longer about me. This is about the students who come after me. Brown is beautiful, it’s empowering, it means struggle. I’ve said this before and I will continue to do so: Education is the difference between the life and death of so many students in my community. We are the future leaders, and if I succeed and other students that look like me don’t, where is my true success there?
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