Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Teen Grows Up To Do Great Things

Sept. 22

My first L.A. Youth writer called a few weeks ago to share exciting news. After five long years away from home she received her Master’s and Ph.D in education at the University of Wisconsin.

When we met she was a bright, curious teen in middle school, looking for a way out of her struggling Latino neighborhood. She excelled in everything she did. Mini, as she’s known to family and friends, won a scholarship to Hampshire College in Massachusetts.

We kept in touch as she expanded her educational horizons. After graduating college she returned to Los Angeles to teach at Compton High School, one of the toughest, most troubled campuses in L.A. Most of her pupils were Spanish speakers with limited ability in English, adding to the challenge.

I’ve never forgotten the passionate speech Mini gave at one of our fundraising dinners. Here’s an excerpt:

Many of my students look to me as an older sister and sometimes even a parent figure. I’m the first to find out when they become pregnant or when their father has run out on them – again. I’m the first person they tell when they feel hurt because their mother was left behind in Mexico. They let me know when they are living out of a garage without food or money. But that is not all, they let me know when they are proud of their schoolwork accomplishments…

If you will, close your eyes for a moment, come with me and stand outside my classroom door at Compton High after all the student have left. You see there, up above my door where the window is located? Well, don’t concentrate on the fact that the window is full of bullet holes, I want you to notice how beautifully the sun shines through those bullet holes and fills the room with so much light. Those rays are my students. In the end, there in only hope.

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