Since my family moved from California in the 7th grade, I’ve attended schools in the Lake Bluff/Lake Forest districts. I’ve lived in the same environment, had the same teachers as my classmates, and was fortunate enough to have the same education, yet somehow I still felt like an outlier as a Latina in a predominantly white community. Although I was raised to have pride in my Mexican-American culture, I struggled to find my voice in the classroom, often too self-conscious or embarrassed to share a differing perspective from my peers. Lacking confidence held me back from accomplishing the goals I dreamt of for myself. Rather than expressing myself authentically as I was accustomed to doing around family and friends, I allowed myself to slowly slip into the background and began acting out the stereotypes of not making school a priority. I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t, paying more attention to my image than my education. I knew I needed to make a change in order to live up to my potential. It wasn’t until the middle of my junior year that I decided to make those changes.
In talking candidly with some of my other Latina and African-American friends, I discovered that some of them felt the same insecurities but couldn’t find the confidence to open up. It was around this time that I developed the idea for a racial diversity club through a hallway conversation with my freshman year English teacher, Ms.Lyons, who coincidentally was looking for student leaders to head up a club like the one I was envisioning. We realized that many neighboring high schools already had clubs like these, so we started working together alongside Nadia Rodriguez, a current junior, to develop our own at LFHS. In preparation for the club, we attended Latinx United at Evanston Township High School as well as a conference hosted by SOAR, Students Organizing Against Racism, that was held at Northwestern University last Spring. Latinx United is a conference held for their Latinx students to offer them a chance to discuss current issues in the community. The SOAR conference was a much larger event that was held for all students, no matter their ethnicity. It moved me to see students of all races–Black, White, Asian, Latinx and others–all coming together to have courageous conversations about race. Both events gave me the courage to have a voice and the inspiration to encourage others to do the same. It was a place where I felt like myself, where everyone heard each other’s opinions without any criticism. By the end of the conference, Nadia and I spoke in front of hundreds of students without hesitation. It was easy for me to speak and share my experiences because everyone was there for the same reason: to support and listen to each other.
We are excited to have our first meeting this Thursday, of EmbRACE, a club that is open to all students who are interested in building community, developing racial consciousness, and advancing racial justice. With current events in Charlottesville and with DACA, it seems evermore important to have these conversations. Ms. Lyons, our faculty sponsor and fearless leader in developing EmbRACE, had this to share about the club’s mission and rationale, “One of the outcomes of living in a monocultural community is to gravitate toward those who are like ourselves, but this is at the expense of forming relationships with others we can learn from. The club is called EmbRACE because we envision it to be a place where students embrace conversations about race, embrace their racial identities, and embrace multicultural relationships as a means of breaking down misconceptions about one another.” Ms. Lyons, Nadia Rodriguez, Leslie Barranco, another club leader, and myself envision EmbRACE to be an environment that uses discussion and activities to facilitate a safe, inclusive space for people of all ethnicities to share what’s on their mind, be it their victories, feelings, or concerns surrounding race in today’s world.
I personally want to reassure students that the guidance and the support system is in Lake Forest High School even if it is not at the tip of their hands. We envision EmbRACE as a club that will push every student at LFHS–regardless of race–to be accepted for who they are in the classrooms, hallways, and in conversations that take place at our high school. We want this club to be a safe place for any student in this school, regardless of whether they’re experiencing racial unrest firsthand or not.
I fully understand that it takes time, resources, people, and most importantly, awareness to change the preconceived notions and attitudes surrounding race. The seeds of change, however, need a place to be developed and nurtured through education and understanding, which is what we envision EmbRACE becoming at our school.
We realize it takes courage to share our own experiences and step out of our comfort zones regarding race and identity. Showing up to that first EmbRACE meeting demonstrates to us that you care about the world around you and see value and potential in our school. Moreover, it validates for me that I’m not the only who realizes that instruction and discussion, which can yield knowledge and understanding, has the power to change our community for the better.