Each year, we ask Facing History Partnership Schools in Los Angeles to identify those members of their community who have become 'upstanders' - the individuals and groups who shape their community by speaking up on behalf of others and standing up to injustice small or large. On Thursday, we will celebrate our 2015 Upstanders and we are proud to share their stories as inspiration for us all.
Rosemary Tecun, Social Justice Humanitas Academy
As a 10th grader, Rosemary Tecun has already been shaping her school community. It all starts with small steps. Rosemary has tirelessly pushed others to achieve their best – encouraging them both in and outside of class. On numerous occasions, Rosemary has dragged students to their teachers’ office hours to complete missing assignments, and then follows up with both the teacher and the student to ensure that the student completed the assignments. In helping struggling students stay on track, Rosemary has helped them develop both improved academic performance and a higher degree of self-advocacy. These students have become more likely to seek out support from their teachers on their own, and other students at the school have begun to follow in Rosemary’s footsteps to help out their peers in and outside of class.
Vanessa Ovalle, Los Angeles School of Global Studies
Vanessa spends her free time raising money and feeding homeless people in her community. Every two weeks, she goes to Skid Row and passes out lunch bags containing a water bottle, sandwich, and fruit. She also decided with a group of students that their Civic Action Project would focus on MacArthur park. After interviews, they decided to get families engaged in helping to increase lighting. They recognized a need to let people know about the recreation center and encourage people to attend to the clubs. “The more people that go to the park, the more they will demand for a better park.” Vanessa noted. She has made contact with the city council office and can now report any light bulbs not working. “The park isn’t safe for children but it will be soon.” Vanessa’s optimism and hard work has been noted by her teachers, who shared that Vanessa has gone the extra step in their project – not only researching, but finding solutions, making materials in Spanish to encourage all people to take their park back.
Cynthia Perez, Animo Jackie Robinson Charter High School
As the current lead for the school’s House of Representatives, Cynthia Perez regularly organizes students on campus around issues of concern. She has worked with allies to organize students for nonviolent protests and works diligently and passionately to ensure that students’ voices/concerns are heard in a solution-oriented fashion. This has resulted in changed school policies and more student involvement in the creation of school policies. Her concern and actions go beyond the realm of the school. With the recent increase and visibility of police brutality in the USA, Cynthia has gone to great lengths to inform other students about what is happening and how to get involved in social change. She was one of several who helped organize an on campus student walkout coinciding with a nationwide walkout against police brutality. This is but one example of her belief in justice and equity for all people. She has also gotten involved with helping North Korean refugees start new lives, and is working with three other seniors to address homelessness in the South Los Angeles community.
Kimberly Alfaro, Engineering and Technology Academy at Esteban Torres High School
Kimberly Alfaro joined the politically active organization East Yard in East Los Angeles during her senior year and has been active and passionate in addressing the issues raised. She has participated in a large bike protest (“Toxic Tour”) bringing awareness of how Exide and other companies do not follow the proper regulations in the community. She spoke to other students about East Yard and the environmental pollution caused, inspiring others to join her and also rise as leaders. As a result of the numerous publicized protests, Exide permanently closed its plant in nearby Vernon and agreed to clean up all pollution. Kimberly is dedicated to continuing to fight for a safe environment even after she leaves for college.
HEART Leadership, Social Justice Leadership Academy at Esteban E. Torres High School
The HEART (Human Efforts Aimed at Relating Together) group at Social Justice Leadership Academy has helped many students at the school develop greater engagement with their own education and their community, and see the relevancy of school to their lives. These five students have provided the leadership at the center of HEART this year: Karen Acost, Anthony Cisneros, Rosie Flores, Zelia Lujano, and Jose Puentes. When they realized that there was a need to do more for struggling 9th and 10th graders, they organized a forum on subjects such as respect, community, building, getting involved at school, and making connections to adults and other students. This created a social safety net with mentors who can help students in need of a listening ear, encouragement, help with school work, or someone to be a role model. As a result of their work, over 40 students have the HEART mentor they need, and three 9th graders have joined HEART to give back themselves.
Cesar Chavez Upstanders, Hollenbeck Middle School
This year, LA Partnership Schools Network schools had the opportunity to engage with the film, Cesar Chavez, at our fall summit on school culture. At Hollenbeck, a teacher, parent, and group of students took the lead in turning the viewing of the film into a powerful shift in school culture. Teacher Nancy Delgado was integral to organizing and implementing a school-wide viewing of the movie and engaging students in a lesson to learn the core values of Cesar Chavez. Thirteen students took that inspiration to create posters defining what it means to be an upstander at Hollenbeck Middle School. These posters helped raise awareness about being an upstander. The posters were posted in front of the school by the entrance, where they provide the students at Hollenbeck with the daily reminder of what it means to be an upstander. The top winners also came up with a slogan that helped start a whole school campaign to recognize a true upstander, “Being an Upstander means not Fighting with Actions But Fighting with Knowledge.” (Kimberly Ramirez and Alison Mejia) This slogan empowered students to become upstanders and it was evident in their change of attitude toward each other. Parent Maria Cervantes complemented these student and teacher efforts by leading a related parent workshop.
LGBTQIA+ Club, Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology at Esteban E. Torres High School
Clubs on campus can have a natural tendency to focus inwards – on other members of the club. But, for the LGBTQIA+ community at Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology, their efforts have been focused on educating others on campus, and thereby building awareness that we are all responsible for the well-being of each other. These students chose to be visible participants in the Day of Silence – a day for staying silent to raise awareness of those whose voices have been silenced by homophobia. On that day, this group of students placed tape over their mouths and carried placards that explained the reason for their silence. This very visible act was witnessed by all students on campus, and sent the message that when someone is mistreated, students will stand up. The students further created an image dedicated to the LGBT community and have spread that image to further educate their school community.
8th Grade Advisory Class, Watts Learning Center Charter Middle School
School-assigned projects can all too often be just on paper, and stay within the four walls of a classroom. Not so with a project done by 8th Grade students at Watts Learning Center Charter Middle School this fall. These 26 students decided to focus on cleaning up a street located on one side of the school. The street is known for excessive trash that is dumped regularly. When the students itemized what they found, it included couches, televisions, chairs, mattresses, oil cans, trash, clothes, broken dressers, tires and sewage. After discussing how they could get the community cleaned, they proceeded (with some teacher guidance) to research companies that can pick up the trash and located one which could help. As a result of their work, the trash was removed, the street has stayed clean for four months, and the students have begun a plan to keep the neighborhood clean. A special note for the two students who led this project: Diana Hernandez and Kevin Meneses.
Graduating Seniors in the Leadership Class, Academy of Medical Arts, Carson High School
In many cases, graduating seniors focus on their own class – having spent four years together that would be very natural. At AMA, however, the seniors focused instead on two activities that sought to strengthen the community of the school, leaving a legacy of upstanding. Part of this group spent the year planning, organizing and now planting to turn what was once a blighted area into an area that provides an opportunity to study plants, grow a community garden, and gather with peers and family to learn how to use container gardens for food and sustainability. The rest of the students focused on creating a community spirit with the small steps of particular school-wide events and mentoring underclassman. As role models, they have inspired other students, and are making AMA a more welcoming, inclusive school.
Click here to read more about the celebration Thursday, April 30, 2015 at La Plaza de Cultura y Artes.
Keep reading inspiring stories of upstanders from our 2014 Celebration.