School leaders take their students’ stories to lawmakers in Washington
We all have our favorite symbols that remind us of what America’s all about. The Declaration of Independence, the flag, or even Monday Night Football. But when the end of DACA was announced three months ago, Marisol Rerucha looked at Lady Liberty.
She thought of “The New Colossus,” the Emma Lazarus poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty’s base, and how ending DACA violated it. “The great promise of our country, to be a refuge for those in need, was being spitefully revoked and would have a tremendous impact on hundreds of thousands of children,” Rerucha recalls thinking.
Rerucha copied down the poem and had it in mind as she visited Capitol Hill earlier this month to urge representatives to pass a DREAM Act by the end of the year. She visited offices with Alex Hernandez, Principal of The Multicultural High School in Brooklyn, New York, and José Enriquez, Executive Director of Latinos in Action in Utah. Rerucha is Career Technical Education Specialist at the San Diego County Office of Education.
All three are alumni of UnidosUS’s National Institute for Latino School Leaders, or NILSL, a fellowship that gives educators the skills and support they need to become advocates for Latino students in local and state politics.
NEW VOICES IN TROUBLING TIMES
The political turbulence of the last two years has brought out a lot of new voices hungry for change. People are now more aware than ever of the policies that affect our everyday lives, and they’re speaking out about them.
For a long time, many of us have thought it was best to work within the difficult systems that we’re used to. To not cause a fuss. Alex Hernandez has seen that in her neighborhood. “Our students come from communities that are silenced,” she says. “Where everyone’s heads are down. We just work hard, and keep the family close.”
But now it’s time to put that mindset behind us. “We are living in a time where we can no longer allow our youth to be pushed into the shadows by fear and hatred,” Rerucha says. “We must strengthen each other to fight for those who are being silenced.”
Hernandez wants to help lead the way: “I strongly believe it’s our responsibility as advocates to pay it forward. We must provide a voice to the voiceless whenever possible.”
“Being able to do something—to show up, speak up, and remind people that there are educators who stand behind DACA—is empowering.”
EMPOWERING EACH OTHER
The process of becoming an advocate can feel intimidating. The political realm is a big and strange world, and it’s often hard to know where to start. This time, the three NILSL alumni found inspiration in each other.
“It’s empowering to know that there are incredible leaders who are using their voice to ensure that single stories don’t dominate how our students are perceived,” Hernandez says. “Being able to do something—to show up, speak up, and remind people that there are educators who stand behind DACA—is empowering.”
Each of the three had similar feelings about advocating together. According to Rerucha, “Watching Alex and Jose use their gifts to quickly engage with the staff of representatives of their states, and to use every minute allotted to them to tell the story of our youth, was inspiring and renewed my hopes.”
And while the three of them were able to advocate in person, in DC, the NILSL alum represent passionate educators who work on the ground, and advocate there too. “There are warriors in all states who are working with youth, leading schools, managing staff, and representing their communities,” Rerucha says.
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TAKING EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK UP
Hernandez, Rerucha, and Enriquez were in DC for the Latino Education Advocacy Summit, a sort of reunion for NILSL’s six cohorts and a set of sessions with parent leaders. Before the Hill visit, they were updated on DC news that could affect their students.
“I walked into the offices of three of California’s Republican congressmen with confidence in my spirit and voice,” Rerucha says.
Educators might have one of the strongest perspectives on how education policy affects kids’ learning, but with everything else on their plates, finding the time to advocate can be hard. “It can seem impossible,” according to Rerucha. “NILSL gave me the training, opportunity, and time to become a true advocate for our youth and community.”
“We must strengthen each other to fight for those who are being silenced.”
And for Hernandez, the fellowship showed her “the value in representing the communities that we serve. Before the fellowship, I had the tendency to put my head down, work hard, and keep my family close. Now I take any opportunity I have to raise my head and lift my voice in support of our community.”
Our teachers are often some of the most influential people we come across as we’re growing up. As more people feel empowered to speak out against the injustice they see, it’s comforting to know that we can look to educators to show us how it’s done.