by Joann “Jo” Ayuso, she/her/hers
Founder, Director of Movement Education Outdoors
YIA Community Partner
I came up with seven other siblings. We lived in the projects in Mass. My mom still had to work three jobs to feed us and keep the apartment. I am the youngest “La nena” taken care of by my sister Eveline who used ASL to communicate because she started losing her hearing at the age of four and it was gone by the age of 14 due to scarlet fever. I am thankful for her for many reasons, she is my favorite, but also because I am trilingual. But just with any other language if you do not use it you lose it, it’s like my Spanglish now. I am also the only one who went to college. It’s Spring and I am seeing young folks finishing up their last year in high school excited for what’s next. I remember not wanting to go to college because adults around me did not push, encourage, or support me in academics. In my family, we were just taught to work hard and get that paper. It was suggested by my brother that I go to the Army. I didn’t go overseas or anything, but I was away for a minute and was immersed in structure, support and experienced an amount of accomplishment I had never experienced. With that I was able to have the courage, willingness, and determination to try college. Once I did, my family treated me different. They said I talked funny, and I was trying to be something I was not. That hurt. I am good now because I see that as part of a system of oppression. There are a lot of graduates coming up now, they have seen and lived through stuff some folks will not in their lifetime. Lift our graduates, Lift your loved ones, Lift those who cannot lift themselves.
by Rainbow Chen, Brown University ’21 – Bonner Fellow
When I think of what I’m grateful for, I think of the opportunity that I have to spend time and work with Youth In Action, most especially the youth. I’m now in my fourth year of working with Youth In Action and it’s been a wild few years. Every year, I’m always learning about myself and the youth and how I can be my best self to support them. Whether it be through college application support, grant writing, or vibing together (now over Zoom). I always find myself in awe of how amazing our youth are and how much I learn from them everyday. I started my work with Youth In Action as an advocate for student voice, but now I see myself as an advocate for youth “in action,” youth empowered, and youth as our leaders with adults as supporting allies. It is through Youth In Action that I can be who I am today: an education advocate and forever ally in making youth heard and pushing them to the top. I am forever grateful for Youth In Action.
by Roseline, Junior at Juanita Sanchez
Starting a new school year throughout 2020 seems very stressful not only for the students, but also for our teachers. This upcoming year we will start it virtually until October 13th, and from there we will attend school 2 days a week depending on which group gets assigned to us. It could be between Group A or Group B. I believe this plan will make it more complicated and stressful not only because of the plan itself but also because i’m a Junior in High School. Junior Year is one of the most important years in High School, because throughout this year we need to start thinking about college and also practice and take the actual SATs. Getting a good score on my SATs has been very important to me and I believe that virtual learning wont help me as much since it’s hard for me to keep up as fast as I used to and also learn necessary things right away while being at home. As much as I disliked the idea of virtual learning and having to stay home for school I believe it’s the best idea for this specific year. I believe this because having everyone in a building could increase the amount of cases and that could lead to us not being able to attend school for another year.
I would’ve never thought we would ever be in this situation and that I would miss attending school as much as I do now. One of the things I miss the most would definitely be being around friends. They were the ones who mostly supported me throughout the year and the ones who would be there for me no matter what and to me having friends that had my back while attending school definitely helped me have a better experience in school. In conclusion, I believe this year will be one of the most challenging but I won’t give up or let anyone down when it comes to me giving my 100% even when it gets stressful at times. I will also try to do my best and my main goal for this year is definitely to get High Honors and also to get a good score on my SATs.
by Stephanie Nunes, YIA Deputy Director
In June 2014 I started a full-time job in St. Louis, MO, two months before Michael Brown, Jr. was killed. During the day, I worked with an agency addressing the issues of the residents who lived in Ferguson and were unable to leave their homes due to the lockdown brought on by the military presence on the streets of Ferguson. On the weekends and evenings, I protested along with others in St. Louis, hoping for a change in the way our Black communities are policed and treated. Almost six years later and our society seems to just be on repeat. But my life isn’t. I now have a young Black son that I am raising, and hearing stories of unarmed Black people being killed now not only brings on fear for my life but the life of my son. The son that I know will one day be well over 6 feet and be seen as a threat. Not because he is doing anything wrong, but because he is Black. I also understand that my son has the light-skinned privilege (look at that, a Black person acknowledging their privilege) which will garner him some passes, but to others, he will still simply be seen as a Black man. So a plea from a mother, please keep protesting. We need to change a system that negatively impacts and targets Black people and other People of Color for simply existing. We need a country and society that welcomes and acknowledges our differences. And we need those who aren’t impacted to put their bodies (and money) on the line for change.
“We will shape and mold this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore.” – Nina Simone
by Olubunmi Olatunji, Program Director
Someone once asked me “Why do we need black history month?” Here are a few responses that come to mind:
- Because nonblack people still ask if it is ok to say the n-word
- Because people are still trying to touch my hair
- Because an all-black cast (RE: Black panther) was considered racist
Black History Month has served in the US as a way to remember Black people’s introduction to the Western world through slavery. As a young person, I used to disregard the importance of Black History month as I was told it was stupid, too short, and/or racist, and we only ever talked about four people: Abraham, Malcolm, Martin, and Rosa. But Black History is extensive and it is not just the last four hundred years but beyond that involving the history of our home, Africa. Knowing the past can open the door to the future; but what happens when an entire people do not know their past, cannot celebrate their accomplishments or be recognized for their achievements and contributions to our society? That is why today I use Black History Month to magnify the magnificence of Black people in America.
“We’ve been enough and we always will be enough” Taraji P Henson