The power of hope

First signs of spring 2016

There is a lot of solace to be found in the simple act of writing. This Holy week I have been reflecting on the power of Hope. Each of us, whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jew or atheist, can understand the incredible capacity of people who despite all adversities maintain a spirit of hope, confident that a better way is possible. Even amidst the constant threats of violence, injustice and death, Hope remains alive.

I see it everyday.

I see it in the determined faces of the adult refugees I work with; I see it in the enduring friendships I’ve had that have carried me through tough times; I see it the trees and flowers wanting to make everything come back to life. Hope is palpable.

So, I ask you, my readers, where do you see hope in your everyday life?

As a daughter, I find hope in my mother’s relentless kindness, courage and sense of fun she exudes amidst the challenges she faces.

As a friend and partner, I find hope in the late night ice cream runs, road trips and the defiant phone calls )instead of texts) detemined to prove hearing your friend’s voice, both the laughter and pain filled moments, are always better than emojis.

As a woman, I find hope in friendships with older women, the mentors, in my life who never cease to amaze me with their well-lived but not weary, “let’s get down to work” spirit.

As a Christian, I find hope in the resurrection Christ brings.

Hope is in all of this.

Wherever you are on your life journey or spiritual path:  May this season of hope bring you a greater awareness of the new life that is found in the here and now.

Be Your Authentic Self

Check out my podcast on Sound Cloud! I will be bringing you personal reflections, stories and poems to inspire, encourage and empower. Stay tuned for my first Podcast Series about The Power of Voice.

Yearning to Breathe Free: A Poem

This is a poem I wrote back in 2013 that was originally published on this website. However, I felt it is just as timely now as ever.

Yearning to Breathe Free

Not like the formidable frontera that seems to travel in an endless expanse

Marked only by its trails of decay, misery and death

There stands a new, yet strangely familiar figure

Her hands are weathered from holding the torch that beckoned so many to her safe harbors

Yet her feet are firm; she has stood the test of time

Deliverance has made its home at her gates, welcoming strangers with her warm gaze and arms stretched out as if in a warm embrace

Huddled masses relentlessly pounding upon her breast, seeking a place of comfort and rest

But, through the night of standing watch

She was disarmed

With alarming fright

By people supposed to protect her

Land-dwellers. People from the left and the right,

One did not need to look far to the shore to see the abundance of florescent light,

Blindly pressing onward with their backs to the past

Like the Israelites of old forgetting stories of deliverance from the hand of an oppressor

The flame upon her torch slowly became a flicker, and then an ember until it was no more

Her gift of guidance had been cast aside in pursuit of a greater treasure, those who once cried mercy only called out for the “American Dream,” letting their new life be built upon the sweat, blood, and strife of those seeking deliverance of their own

This stolen light was a beacon of hope in a stormy night to the huddled masses that arrived at her feet pleading for freedom, for safety, for rest at the feet of the Virgin, more than just a statue, but a Mother Divine

This Mother of Exiles pleaded for a match, anything, with which to light the charred embers that served to remind the huddled masses what had been before the night… and why she must not give up the fight

From the land cries filled the night sky,

“We do not have enough to share with all of you, so go back to where you came from!”

Perplexed and distraught but never dismayed,

The huddled masses gathered the hand-carved crosses, religious figurines and old story cloths they kept as faint reminders of where they once came as a humble offering to reignite the untamed fires of freedom

Some of those on the shore already jumped away, into the vast abyss between the Lady and the land to return, as if on a pilgrimage to where their forefathers and mothers began

A sacred moment; A holy communion, some might say of meek and powerful reclaiming the stories of old, of the sweat, blood and pain that it took them to reach

A holy communion marked by the strength and sacrifice of a Mother who wouldn’t turn away those who came with hopes and dreams in their scarred hands

The fire is ablaze. The flame has been rekindled.

This light cannot be contained.

Its light spreads to even the farthest corners where traveling familias pray to the Virgen as they cross the Rio Grande, where children sit waiting for a sign of blue sky as visions of life beyond the bars of the refugee camp flash before their eyes, where parents weep asking why they left it all behind to find they were still at the bottom of the heap, where undocumented youth are told they must “get to the back of the line” where no line remains when they committed no crime but must daily endure the shame of being called “illegal,” without a name

Erupting into the night sky, the Mother Divine cries once more like she did at her birth with silent lips, “These tired, weary masses have come to breathe free, leaving their life behind to be crucified with only a vision of what might be. Woe to you who have shown little mercy, little hospitality, and little hope to your own. Your hearts they grew bitter and fear did replace that child-like wonder when you first saw my face. Now you have lived here two, three or four generations long, but I beseech you, I plead you, I beg you, do not forget where you came from

Remember that those weary hands were once your grandfather’s who struggled to provide a humble home laying bricks that would become the foundation for towers so high no one could imagine they could reach up to the sky

Remember that those tired feet were once your mother’s as she stood all night and day enduring the terrifying shrieks of the monstrous machines in a room suppressing her own hopes and dreams, just so her children could finally learn how to breathe, becoming the CEOs of a company she once worked, locked in a tower on the 30th floor sweating away.

Remember that those enduring spirits were once your parents as they labored each day hoping neither for fortune nor fame, but for a chance to give you a vision they never could have seen for themselves. One track laid upon the other through their unrelenting spirit paved the way for a railroad that would be used across the nation, stretching as far as if it were the Golden Gate bridge leading you home

Remember these longing souls were once your fore fathers and mothers willing to lay down their own lives so they could see the day when you would be free, not to further oppress or divide but to join the huddled masses to cry out for something better, for a hopeful future to all who might make their home in a place of better tomorrows than today.

Remember, remember…”

Her last words ring out as a voice of a prophet calling her people back from the wilderness, to a place of unity instead of divide, to a place of courage instead of fear and to a place of hope instead of despair

Shining brighter than ever, her torch still guides those who seek comfort, safety and rest

Like a queen leading a magnificent parade

This procession becomes a triumphant song of divine welcome

For all who may be yearning to breathe free.

Open letter to President-elect Trump

Dear President-elect Donald Trump,

I am writing to you to express my warmest welcome as Commander-in-Chief of our country.

While I fully detest and oppose your tactics used throughout your campaign that have incited violence, bigotry and hate of the worst kind, I must thank you. Thank you, really? You might ask, why? Let me tell you:  you being elected has been a reality check, an awakening of sorts, a timely reality check I needed.

We live in a society dominated and controlled by white and male supremacy, of which xenophobia, Islamophobia and homophobia all stem from. I, being a white straight woman, can go on most days without thinking so much as twice of this reality.  This isn’t to say I haven’t been involved or dedicated my time to the fight against these injustices, but I just really had no reason to confront them day in and day out.

Since your election I have been hit smack in the face with a blinding reality, reminding me that my safety, my self-worth, and rights can easily be denied, mocked or taken away.  I finally feel a sliver of the fear my friends, former colleagues, and neighbors who are people of color, immigrants, LGBTQIA+ and Muslim, have been facing all along.

But you know what? This could just be what saves White america from itself.

Now, that you are president we will look back on the days of having a highly-qualified diplomatic, thoughtful and inclusive leader in sweet reminiscence. Thank you for ensuring that President Obama will be the most revered, beloved president of our generation.

Now, that you are president our youth will learn just how important they are and how much we adults need their voices. They will be our reminders of hope, that better days are yet to come.

Now that you are president we won’t be able to forget the past–that our nation was built by slaves, grown by immigrants and fed by women. All who fought back, so it could be run by a Black president, created by Tawainese, French, Latin American immigrant inventors,  and shaken up by a group of women riveters who still cry out today “we can do it!”.

We (White people) need our black and brown, our asian and native, refugee and undocumented neighbors as never before. And, you know what? They need us too…we just haven’t been showing up for them in the ways that we need to. Well, now is the time for that to end.

So, in some strange way, I am thankful for you, Donald, because this nation, and most certainly YOU, are due for a huge reality check.

Now,  President-elect, the choice is right in your face:  side with white, male supremacy OR side with the historically disenfranchised, the oppressed counterparts in our nation.

The choice is yours.

Sincerely your annoyingly loud and proud feminist constituent,

Sarah M. Northrup


I have talked to some friends who face much, much greater threats and daily risks for just being who they are than me, and now that fear and anxiety is only heightened.

To my dear friends, family, former colleagues, and past students whom are undocumented, living in the shadows or DACA recipients; those whom just recently were able to get married in all 50 states and celebrate the unity of marriage with whomever they love; those whom have been harassed, interrogated for “driving while black” or face the threat of police brutality on a daily basis; those whom are the subjects of contempt, bigotry and hatred for the hijab they wear or the way they choose to practice their faith:   You matter. You are loved. You are not alone.

I promise to be the best ally I can be. To stand with you and for you. To listen to you, to learn from you and to follow your lead.   I will make mistakes, and have shortcomings, but I promise to fight by your side.

This is my promise.

“If there is no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to one another”~Mother Teresa

The Beautiful Game: A Poem

Last days of school are always bittersweet. And, this past one definitely was as well.

The last day of summer school right now is fresh on my mind and in my heart. So many words can be used to describe that last day. Unfortunately, I can’t share pictures of that day on this website due to legal privacy issues with showing photos of students that I would like to respect. If you want to see a few, just ask and I’ll share them with you not on my website.

Instead, Here’s a few photos I found of refugee  women playingimage     image

I played “the beautiful game” aka soccer with my 7th and 8th grade young women for roughly an hour…and was completely shown up by their talent, skill and persistence 🙂 Here’s a few photos I found of refugee young women playing the game all across the world!

My female students and I actually didn’t even plan on playing soccer together. It was one of the moments that you look back on and wish you could let them stand still in time forever. We were all outside for “field day” and the gentlemen decided they just wanted to play a game of soccer. Instead of sitting on the sidelines or having to deal with the frustration of not getting passed the ball, these ladies took the reins to make it a game of their own.

Most of the students I worked with were Karen, a minority ethnic group originally from Myanmar (Burma) who have been heavily persecuted. Many of my Karen students grew up in a refugee camp or had spent significant time living in a refugee camp in Thailand. This poem is for them.

~The Beautiful Game~

Dribble, pass, shoot.

It was a beautiful day to play a beautiful game.

And, so they decided it was their day too.

To make the plays; to call the shots; to sweat; to not let the fast rhythm of their breath stop them make the next step; to be proud of what they had done.

Dribble, pass, shoot.

Thinking back to the days they used to watch and pray. Behind closed walls, where noises were like thunder, cries of longing told it all.

Dribble, steal, shoot.

Back to the times when they would sit with their mothers and their sisters and dream like babies without vision of the things that kept them trapped.

Block, trap, dribble, pass.

Trying to stop the memories from flooding in all at once of terror and of triumph over a thread of tranquility…that was real at one time.

Shouts, “Pass it, center field, I’m open.”

It is not the fear of hunger, of the killers, of the other, that keeps you alive. It is the constant rhythm of life; the beauty of a dance at night, the celebrations that won’t ever stop, it is the sound of your heart as you breathe in and out in the same beat, overcoming all the memories of how far you have traveled and what your eyes too young have seen.

Pass, cross it, head it, you made it.

It is that moment when your heart dances to the rhythm of  your feet that reminds you life, with all its suffocating spaces, is still beautiful.


Dear Mr. Donald Trump

Trump Photo 1

Dear Mr. Donald Trump,

You inspire me in countless ways.  Some of which would be:

To avoid actually engaging in dialogue with people who have different opinions from myself.

To never EVER apologize or take any credit for derogatory statements towards millions of people I make.

To bring people together in the name of “Making America Great” again while doing everything possible to polarize the constituents you claim you will stand for.

To accept child-like remarks about my body and ensure me that any man, especially one who is a billionaire, can insult any powerful woman on national television with ease.

Lastly, you inspire me to forget.

To forget the sweat, blood and tears of people who have actually made this country great, who brought all that they had to this place they call home asking for only their dignity in return. To forget what the beads of sweat on Sojourner Truth’s brow looked like after she courageously asked “Ain’t I a woman?”; to forget the blood that was spilled as those brave men and women—both black and white, male and female, Christian and Jew—as they walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on that fateful Sunday; to forget the tears of joy and sadness as DREAMers, undocumented youth, embraced their mothers for the first time in 6 years whispering promises of unity through the slits in a wall built upon fear.

These memories, this history, these stories, these people ARE the United States of America.

This is what inspires me.  And, Mr. Donald Trump this is what you fail to lose.

The choice is yours.



OUR United States of America is not one that will be built on hate, fear or lies but by the power of the blood, sweat, and tears of those brave enough and willing to stand up against injustices to make this country a country we are proud to continuously help shape. The hate stops here!

Reflect on these powerful images, videos and photos of the stories I described above. Click on the links:

“Ain’t I a Woman” by Sojourner Truth

DREAMers meeting their mothers at the U.S.-Mexico Border

President Obama and Civil Rights Leaders of the ’60’s walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge

“Glory” performed by Common & John Legend at the Oscar’s

Tribute to a home

Throwback time! Wanted to share a poem I wrote last year because it seemed fitting today with my move to Minneapolis, as well as all you other fellow movers out there. Enjoy 🙂


There is a sign that you can see if you look past the forlorn vacancies:

“Home is any place that Life takes you”*

Well, Life has taken me on a ride, gasping for more air at the

climb and in awe of the beauty that’s been brought to me

Life has brought me more challenges than I thought I could face

And more love than I thought I could find

See Life is not a map or a game or some kind of gamble you can win with bribes—No, it is not something to be trivialized or denied no matter how many detours we might take

And its home is not the structures—it’s not the number of missing kitchen tiles nor the chipped blue paint next to the welcome sign; it’s not the steep staircase that nobody wants to climb nor the railing that looks more like a melting popsicle ready to fall off

No, Home is the laughter that fills you and leaves no space or time for the “why?”, Home is the taste of foods from far away, unfamiliar yet unrelenting in its affections for you, Home is the empty lot turned into a world ruled by kids and their imaginations, Home is the sweet smells rising to the windows gasping for cool air to find aromas you can’t name, Home is the smile of J.J. pleading to play “just one more game”, Home is the soccer games in the backyard and the lessons with Grandma Pepe teaching you the gift of listening, Home is the sounds of Norteño music rising up steadily with the smoke from the elotes on the grill, Home is the first floor washing machine standing still silenced and broken and the never-ending hoots and hollers from houses and street corners brimming with people lacking in age but not in experiences. Home is the look, the sound, the smell, the Life that was given and received all in one place.

Home is being born again and again calling out to us with a look of curiosity and care from that pesky kid next door  “Don’t you wanna come play with me? It’s just one game!”

And as you may already know, Life that finds a home will not take “No” for an answer.


*  (quote taken from  a project to create community-created art in foreclosed buildings in an effort to reclaim and restore and to preserve the art of “place-making” along University Avenue in Hamline-Midway area)

Top 5 things I learned from my first year teaching

Top 5 most important lessons I learned from my first-year teaching:

1.  Take care of yourself!

I always think of the episode in Parks & Rec where Tom and Donna have what they call a “Treat Yo’ Self” day. As teachers, and in any profession that is demanding of your emotional, physical and mental well-being it is SO important to learn how to take care of yourself. As a first year teacher I probably learned this lesson a tad too late, aka when the year was pretty much over. However, it’s NEVER too late to learn this lesson. Take half a day on Sunday or Saturday to just go by yourself on a bike ride or read a book for fun (no, reading a book about teaching diverse classrooms does not count–believe me, I’ve tried!!). Do something that will fill you up, replenish you, and sustain you so you can keep doing the much needed work in the trenches! This one is definitely a “still-in-the-works” one for me, but I am definitely getting there 🙂

2. Never give up–and never let your students either!

“Si se puede”, “Yes, I can”. Cesar Chavez said it first and the school I worked at last year took it on as their school pledge as well. When times get tough, as they will most often times around conferences or when a parent calls or you have to do one more home visit right before spring break, just remember why you do what you do. Having quotes on my desk as little reminders and student work or cards they gave to me reminded me that the work I do is important–incredibly important–no matter how much (or maybe how little) we get paid as teachers we have the MOST important, incredible job probably in the world (Okay, maybe that was a mild exaggeration). I can’t begin to say how many times last year I really asked myself “Am I doing the right thing?” “Am I really even making a difference?” “Is this really the most impactful thing I can do in a young adults’ life?” Even though I asked myself this as I was looking for jobs this whole summer too, so far this school year the answer has been a resounding “YES”–teachers do really make a difference. So, don’t give up–and use your stories of struggle to share with your students so they don’t give up either!

If you aren’t convinced, watch this:

3.Be in your students’ lives in a real way

This past year when I went home from school I took my work with me. I don’t just mean I took home papers to grades or scope and sequences to write, I mean when I got home I’d get out of my car and see a third-grader from my class playing the down street. Almost every day in the spring she was call out, “Hey Miss N, wanna play?!”. A few times I took her up on the offer. Let me advise you though, piggy-back rides everyday right after 8 hours of teaching in 8 different classes with over-hyped kids was a bit of a stretch–so make it just a once a week thing! 😉 In all sincerity, having one of my students and getting to know her family was one of the biggest blessings in my first year teaching.

Angel was just about as spunky as they come as far as 3rd graders go, even though often times she had to act much older than a 3rd grader to take care of her family. Even if it was just seeing her outside or inviting her to one of the bonfires we had with neighbors, she knew I cared about her in and outside of school and for students who often get overlooked or under-served the smallest actions can make the significant difference. She hadn’t had much consistency with her school or in her home life with her grandma taking care of 5 kids and a newborn baby. I tried to offer rides as much as I could to school events and let them know I was there. In school, I would do everything I could to try to bring what I knew of her and her family into my lessons to keep her going. It definitely felt like an uphill battle in the classroom as she often tried to say she was “sick” to get out of our activities that involved reading and writing, two things that felt like scaling a mountain.

A few weeks before school ended I found she had moved when I stopped seeing her outside everyday after school. I was pretty bummed, I didn’t have any way to keep in contact with her. Then, about a month after school ended she showed up outside my door, with a huge smile and a big hug. Although I’m not sure when or if I’ll see her again, but I hope she’ll be able to look back at that one year we lived on the same block and tell someone how it made a difference in her life–because I know it definitely did for me!


4.  Celebrate the victories, even if they may seem small.

Sometimes, as a teacher at the end of the day it’s too easy to be too hard on yourself. It’s too easy to think about the kids who still “don’t get it” and beating yourself up about the things you did or didn’t do or could have done to help them. Something I didn’t start learning until the very end of the first-year (and am still trying to learn this second year) is how to celebrate the small victories. When I say small, I  mean small. For example, a kid remembering his pencil for the first time or a student who usually is disengaged getting really excited about something you are learning. It’s remembering these small victories that really do keep you going after a long day.

One of my favorite victories I had this past year had to do with a pen pal project I started with another EL teacher friend and her students. We would write letters back and forth with the group of 3rd graders I worked with. After the first time of getting letters from the EL students at my friends’ school the students kept asking, “But, when do we get to meet them Miss N?!”. This got my friend Tanya and I to thinking, what if we actually did plan a trip to one of our two schools and hosted them at one, how cool would that be?! So, we started planning a few months down the road and decided to host the Pen Pal Visit day at our school, with a pizza party and all .

Throughout my class there was always one 3rd grader named Elver who teachers would say just “always” had a grumpy face like an old man. He would often times get frustrated and refuse to do assignments, BUT he never failed to write to his pen pal. He kept saying that they weren’t really going to visit us. So, when they showed up in March after 4 months of writing he was beyond belief thrilled to see his pen pal in real life–I don’t think I ever saw Elver quite so happy before!! It definitely felt like a victory that day.


5.   “People may feel forget what you said, but they will never forget the way you made them feel”

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how many things we might do to try to get new vocabulary words or academic language drilled into our kids’ minds. What does truly matter is our actions–and how much love we put into our actions for our students. This past year, I had a lot to be proud of as a first-year teacher—building an entire EL department at a school that had not seen much structure before. Despite all the efforts I put into building the EL program at my last school, the greatest accomplishment I felt was knowing that my students knew I cared about them and would fight for them.

One day a 6th grader who usually gave me a hard time actually refuted a comment from another student about teachers’ work ethics saying in so quietly it almost was a whisper, “Teachers are really the hardest workers I’ve ever seen”. Students notice when teachers care–and it effects them probably more at this time in their lives than at any other time. Right now when there is so much that needs to be changed within our educational system and how it works, these small things can be the difference between a student choosing to give up on themselves and school or to keep going. At the end of it all, by being a positive light we can together create a circle of hope, of encouragement, and of love for children and young adults all over the country. And, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? 🙂

**All student names were changed to respect privacy**

“Freedom Summer: Lesson Learned from the Movement & My Scholars”

This past summer was a game-changer for me. After student teaching ended this past spring, I was left feeling burnt out, exhausted and questioning whether or not my desire to be a teacher, at least for a short period of time, was a challenge I was ready to take head on. However, all of that changed when I decided to accept the position this summer as a “Freedom servant leader intern” with the Freedom Schools program. Participating as a lead instructor for a group of six graders was far from easy, but I believe it was through the lessons my scholars (what we call students in the Freedom School program) taught me daily and the desire to see them overcome obstacles in their own lives that reminded me why I chose this profession in the first place:  to guide youth in the process of realizing their full potential.

So what was this program that reignited my passion for teaching you may ask? “Freedom School” is part of a historical legacy of summer school programs that were born out of the civil rights movement, more specifically from a project known as “Freedom Summer”. In 1964 “Freedom Summer”, more formerly known as the “Mississippi Freedom Summer Project”, was instrumental in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as it focused on engaging the African-American community, and more specifically the youth, in social action activities with a focus on empowerment through literacy. In 1992, this movement was rekindled once again by the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman. News of the impact this summer program was having on youth quickly spread. Today this program serves youth all across the nation during the summer months. The program has a holistic approach, similar to the original Freedom Schools model, that incorporates 6 key features:  high quality academic enrichment, family involvement, social action, intergenerational servant leadership development, and overall health and wellness.

While the majority of youth served in this summer program are predominately African-American, the Freedom School site I worked at this past summer was primarily with Latino/a youth from the East side and West side of St. Paul. It would be impossible to capture everything I learned over the course of the six weeks with my scholars, but I tried to summarize some of the key points  I learned this summer.

Top things learned from Freedom School…

6.     The movement is always bigger than you

Throughout the summer it was very easy for me to see the difficulties I was facing within my class and feel discouraged about it. Something that was essential to me to keep pressing forward was learning how to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. At the risk of coming across as too much of a Harry Potter fanatic, something that reminded me of this struggle was Harry’s remarks throughout the series about how bad he feels letting other people sacrifice themselves for him. At one point near the end of the series Ron stops Harry mid-sentence and says “Really, you think this is all about you? This is much bigger than you mate!”

By taking a step back, like Harry had to do, I was able to see things from a birds-eye view rather than my own limited perspective. I was able to see that the work I was doing was part of a much larger movement made up of educators and community activists across the country. All of the little “luchas” (fights/struggles) with guiding my students through recognizing the barriers stacked against them and what action they could take to overcome them was part of a much greater “lucha”, one fighting for the equality of all people in this country. It was the hard, but necessary work of planting seeds in the hopes that they would begin to grow. Archbishop Oscar Romero speaks to this well in his famous prayer “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own” saying, “This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise.” This is what being an educator is all about.

 5. Education is the key to empowerment~“Education not deportation”

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”—Paulo Freire

Throughout the summer I was constantly trying to push my scholars on the importance of getting an education. The odds were really against many of students. The majority of them came from low-income backgrounds and all of them either knew someone in their family who was undocumented or were themselves undocumented. Each week I would choose a Latino or Latina to be our “Hall of Fame” person, someone who was making a difference in the Latino community, or the broader community at large. Our last week together I chose a group of four students who walked 1,500 miles from Miami, FL to Washington D.C. in  what they called the “Trail of Dreams” in support of the passage of the DREAM Act, a bill that would allow a path to citizenship for undocumented youth furthering their education.  I had showed them quite a few websites and videos dealing with immigration reform and I was constantly trying to engage them in conversations about immigration and race. Oftentimes I felt my promptings were futile and that they really could not care less, despite my efforts. However, there were several times throughout the summer that I realized this was not the case. They really did care. Actually, they cared quite a lot. They just couldn’t always communicate it in the most appropriate ways.

This particular day when I had them browsing a website about the “Trail of DREAMers” some of my scholars were actually showing enthusiasm about getting involved. I walked around and saw some of them signing up to be on an email update list from the DREAMers. But, my favorite moment happened when two of the girls from the group started chanting a slogan they heard from a short video clip on the website that said “education, not deportation!”.  I couldn’t get them to stop; they really wanted to keep chanting. Even when it was time to do silent reading they were still going at it. It was probably one of the best reasons a teacher could ever hope for in trying to quiet down his/her students. After several minutes of chanting at the top of their lungs I was able to express to them how exciting it was that they wanted to chant this, but their timing was a bit off. At the end of Freedom School for our finale program they chanted this cheer for the parents, and were able to go full-force with their volume 🙂

4.     Challenging systems/beliefs that stand against empowerment is necessary to have critical discussion on race, gender, etc.

“The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom.”—Paulo Freire

One of the most important parts of the Freedom School program is the social action piece. Before the students could really take action on anything I realized that it was necessary for them to reflect on the different kinds of labels society has placed on them as Latino/a youth with varying immigration statuses. Having candid discussions about what it means/feels like when someone calls you a “border hopper” or what it means to be a “man” in our society (in control, aggressive, etc.) was something that we tried to do on a regular basis. Often times my students would say things like “why do we always have to talk about race?” At first it was something that made them very uncomfortable, but as the summer progressed I could see them engaging more and more in these discussions. Through these discussions with my scholars I realized that recognizing internalized oppression in all its forms is necessary in order to become truly empowered.  If the students don’t feel comfortable discussing the ways in which society has wrongly labeled them and suppressed their voices, then there is no hope for them being able to overcome them.

3.     Disempowered people disempower others

Author and activist Alice Walker once said “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any”. I remember several times one of my scholars who was always known as the 6th grade trouble maker argued with me candidly whenever I would bring up the importance the using your voice to be an advocate “But, Miss N we are just kids..nobody cares what we have to say, nobody ever listens to us!” This scholar didn’t believe he had the power to change anything because from his life experience no one listened to him or others with a background to him. The Department of Homeland Security didn’t listen to him during the countless raids they had ICE conduct in his ‘hood. Even the president it seemed had let him and his community down, promising immigration reform by the end of the year while deporting more immigrants on record than any other president in U.S. history. So, why would he think anyone would listen to him? His lack of empowerment, due to valid life experiences, made it easier for him to pick on others and reinforce the stereotype that because he was Mexican and came from a low-income background that he wouldn’t amount to anything. I can’t tell you how many times I heard comments from my scholars like, “Miss N, we are going to be cholos”(slang for Mexican gangsters) or “Miss N we aren’t going to college so why do you keep talking like we are?” or “Nobody in my family has made it through college…Mexicans really must be the dumbest minorities out there”. As disheartening as it was to hear this, it reminded me how many negative messages were getting sent my kids’ way, and how vital it was for me to counter that through open dialogue in class.

At the same I was also reminded that just as disempowered people more easily disempower others, empowered people can influence, inspire and empower others. For example, one day I decided to show the scholars how easy it was to call Congress and tell them to support immigration reform. I had been telling them for awhile how easy it was and that day was an important call-in day for the bill. Within 2 minutes I had called my representative, said a brief statement urging my representative to support the bill, and had ended the call. A few of the students were absolutely shocked. I remember one in particular responded right away saying “No way, I didn’t know you could just call them like that!!”. I replied, “Well, they work for you so all of you have the right to tell them if you don’t like how they are doing things”. I gave them the call-in number to reach MN representatives and told them to spread the word to their friends and family too. I’ll never know for sure whether they decided to make calls on their own after that, but one things for sure. They definitely knew what number to call if they ever decided that wanted to raise their voice.

2.     By revealing your own pains and struggles you open up space for others to share their stories

“When you stand and share your story in an empowering way, your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else”—Iyanla  Vanzant

My first week before I started Freedom School, I wondered how I would be received by the students. I was a white female from an upper-middle class background. Yes, I had spent time in the Latino community in the cities, but I hadn’t the slightest idea what it meant to grow up in fear of “la migra” (slang for ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement). What I learned right away was that guilt will not get you anywhere in furthering dialogue or creating a safe space for your students either. Don’t be afraid to own up to your own role in the system. If the students can’t see how you’ve been affected by it then they are much less likely to believe in it or question it themselves. Show how you have struggled with it and share your personal struggles and current challenges you face. Youth need to see that discussions about race, gender, class, etc. aren’t just a one-time convo, but an ongoing exploration throughout your life that needs to happen internally as well as externally. By being open about my background from day one I was able to open up the space for more authentic dialogue to take place and in doing this I was able to turn the tables on them to help them realize that not all white people are against the struggles they face, that some of us want to try to understand the struggles they face and join in solidarity with them—even though we will always have privilege with us. As Paulo Freire says “I cannot be a teacher without exposing who I am”. As I exposed more of my life and struggles with my students, they felt more open sharing the struggles they faced as well.

1. Solidarity=Love


“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together”.–Desmond Tutu

The most important lesson I learned working with my sixth graders this summer was that solidarity is love. While my attempts this summer to try to understand my students, where they come from, and the struggles they face was far from perfect, I look to the example of Christ as the perfect example of someone who was with and for the most marginalized of his day. When I reflect on the life of Christ I can really see that “conversion” is all about moving from a place of otherness to oneness with those you once saw as “the other”. My favorite moment this summer left me reflecting on the profound realization of what solidarity is and what it can look like.

On this day in particular it was the national social action day for the Freedom Schools program. I led some workshops with the scholars on how to write letters to legislatures about immigration reform and helped them brainstorm ideas. As I was walking around one of my scholars asked “Miss N do you have any family members that are undocumented?” I replied “No, not blood-relatives but there are people that I consider part of my family now that are undocumented, so yes”. Then, a different scholar turned to me and he asked excitedly “Hey, Miss N does that mean you consider us part of your family?” I replied “Of course, I care about all of you! Somos familia (We are family). A big grin spread across his face. It was little moments like that that left a profound impact on me.

This year as a first-year teacher I hope I can remember why I do what I do. I do not teach to hear my own voice or to be in a leadership role as a means to itself. I lead to serve; I lead to lend my voice to others and to give them the platform on which they can realize their full potential.

I am reminded by the words of Mother Teresa everyday as I get up and go to work that God’s power is not in doing extravagant things, but in the small, and often mundane tasks of everyday life. Every time I reminded a student “si, se puede” (yes, you can) or every time I sat down to read with a struggling student one-on-one or had to wait in the copy room for an hour before class just to make sure everything was set, I was trying my best to do each task with love. So in the words of the Mother I will teach:Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies”

Blog at

Up ↑