Latinx Youth Group provides empowerment, trust for Chatham’s Latinx teens

Posted 5/17/19

SILER CITY—For about a year and a half, Latinx students from Jordan-Matthews have been meeting, growing, and learning about their culture and how to play active roles in their community. The group, …

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Latinx Youth Group provides empowerment, trust for Chatham’s Latinx teens

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SILER CITY—For about a year and a half, Latinx students from Jordan-Matthews have been meeting, growing, and learning about their culture and how to play active roles in their community. The group, called Orgullo Latinx Pride (OLP), was the idea of Selina Lopez, Youth Leadership Program Manager for the Hispanic Liaison. Orgullo is the Spanish word for pride.

“At first it didn’t have a name,” Lopez said. “I thought it was important that the group named themselves because this was their group and that was an important piece of the program.”

Lopez notes that growing up in a small town in Warren County, she understands the challenges of Latinx youth in small towns. She says that when she was able to go to the School of Science and Math in Durham it was a true blessing that helped prepare her for UNC-Chapel Hill, where she graduated with degrees in Psychology and Hispanic Literature and Culture. During her time at UNC-Chapel Hill, she discovered mentoring, staring several programs that are still in existance on the campus today. These groups showed her the importance of “making sure the next generation has the skills for the future.”

The students meet for homework sessions, college readiness, community service projects, and field trips to prepare them for their futures. More than simply supplying information, the group provides a safe space for Latinx youth to explore and find their voices in society. A few of the students who participate in the group, presented their stories to the Chatham County Board of Commissioners last month and then again to the Siler City Board of Commissioners last week.

Grecia, a sophomore at Jordan-Mathews, noted the impact OLP has had on his academic experience, making him a better student.

“My freshmen year was very tough for me but this year I have become more responsible with my education and have improved my grades thanks to the homework hour we have in OLP,” Grecia said. “I have also learned how to take school more seriously thanks to OLP and my peers.”

Oscar, a junior who will be the first in his family to attend college, continued on the vein of the group’s effect academics.

“Being the first-generation college student in my family, I do not have anyone to talk to about the college process because my parents did not have the same opportunity as I have,” Oscar said. “Being in OLP I am exposed to people who have been through the college process so I’m able to ask questions to my mentors about colleges in general. Just having that extra support really benefits me to being prepared when It’s time to apply college.”

For some students, participating in OLP is an opportunity to learn how to engage with their peers.

“OLP has really pushed me outside of my comfort zone,” Carlos, a freshman said. “I was, and still am shy, but OLP has really pushed me to work on my public speaking skills. Before I joined, I would have never raised my hand to answer a question in school or talk to people that I have maybe seen, but never talked to before.”

“I used to be socially awkward and making new friends was difficult for me,” Berenice said. “From the moment I placed that black pen over the sign-up sheet, I knew I made the greatest decision in my life. I soon made brand new friends who have the power to boost my self-esteem. They made me have the confidence to be more open towards others and push me to share my thoughts and ideas of the world. OLP has shaped me into who I am today.”

Ervin, a freshman, noted that the group’s efforts in community service and volunteering have bolstered not only his confidence, but a desire to give back to the community. The group has volunteered with the Hispanic Liaison’s Fiesta, a community dinner, the Jordan Lake Clean-up, and the Siler City Litter Sweep last month to clean up N. Chatham Avenue.

“This program really puts a lot of effort in our community and in us as youth because it gives us opportunities to give back to our home,” Ervin said. “This program pushes me outside my comfort zone because it forces me to practice my communication skills with people. That at first, made me a little nervous because meeting new people for the first time is pretty nerve wracking for me because I struggle with what to say sometimes. Through volunteering, I have gained better communication skills and have been able to interact with different people.

The group has taken several scholastic field trips to learn more about higher education and the processes to get into college. OLP has visited both the UNC-Greensboro and N.C. State campuses.

“OLP is very important to me and as for someone who loves going to new places, having the opportunity to be able to go on field trips is so amazing and helpful,” Jackie, a junior said. “It allows me to see other places and cultures, and experience things I would’ve never had the chance of doing.”

Beyond academics and peer engagement, many of the group members spoke about how learning and exploring their culture brought a level of empowerment and the strength to share their experiences with the community around them.

“Culture gives people a chance to learn from other people and see the world through their eyes,” Jocelyn, a freshman said. “It is important to be proud of your culture no matter where you come from. But there are some people in the world and in this town who refuse to accept our differences. OLP gives us a chance to express ourselves, it’s a safe spot where we can speak our minds and how we feel about the world around us. OLP lets out and embraces our creativity. Learning more about my culture has inspired me to accept my culture and do more cultural paintings.”

“By Selina encouraging us to embrace our story and what we have gone through and how we have overcame it has helped me realize that I am powerful and there is power in my story,” Cesia, a senior said. “That being said I now have a different mindset. I now know that my opinion matters and that I have a voice. OLP has made me realize that change is not something to be afraid of and as I now transition from highschool to college I feel like I will thrive, I am confident about my speaking skills and my ability to express my opinions and ideas.”

Some of the students shared their experiences a Latinx youth, in an effort to raise their voices and tell their stories.

“Today there are many people afraid of ICE because they are scared that they will show up at their door,” Esmar said. “I am one of those people. I am one of those people who doesn’t have the same privileges as my U.S. born peers who can get permission to drive a car and have their own licenses. They don’t have to be afraid when the police stops them on the road because they have licenses or permits. I don’t have that privilege. I am a Dreamer who’s path will be a lot harder to attend a 4-year university because of my status. OLP has created a space for me to not be afraid and to feel hopeful about my future.”

“Immigration can mean many different things to different people,” Lizbeth said. “We don’t all have the same meaning of immigration. For some, it’s the act of coming to live in a foreign country. For others, the privileged, it does not mean anything, but for me, it means a lot. Just hearing the word gives me the chills. When I hear the word immigration I think of my parents and the possibility that I may never be able to see and live with my parents. I think of coming home to find out my parents have been taken away and not knowing where they are.

“As a daughter of immigrant parents and as a Latinx individual I started to hear the word immigrant and immigration since I can remember,” she continued. “I remember my parents telling me and explaining to me the protocol if something ever did happen as if I was getting trained. Before OLP I would have never dared to stand here talking about this topic as it may be a scary topic for some people.

“[OLP] has pushed us to stand up for our community and try to make a change as the young leaders that we are,” she said. “We need to create a supportive, safe, and welcoming community where we feel like we are heard. I hope that as representatives of our county, you express your support and solidarity with me and help protect your constituents and lessen the fear within us.”

“Through all of the support that I have been given at OLP I feel like I have become empowered to use my own voice to spread awareness, and to defend others who are too afraid to use their voice or are simply unable to,” Noemi said. “Through OLP I feel like I have been allowed to find the power inside of myself and learn how to use it for bettering my community, and I have learned to not be afraid of using my voice to speak against the horrible things that my community is put through. One of my biggest dreams is to go to college, and to be able to come back to aid my community.”

Lenore, who lives in a shelter run by her godparents because her parents are in Mexico, describes not only the help the organization has provided her, but the inspiration for her future its provided.

“Our youth group has supported me on my journey of discovering who I am and what shapes me,” Lenor said. “OLP has led me to notice my strengths and weaknesses. I have also been given the opportunity to engage civically. I have discovered that I am very passionate about activism and social justice. I have decided that I want to attend college and eventually Law School. My goal is to become an immigration or civil rights attorney. OLP has inspired me to serve Latinx people.”

“It gets very lonely very quickly when there is no guarantee that your loved ones will be home when you arrive, when the authorities don’t seem supportive, and when we are pushed into a position in which assimilation into American culture seems like the best survival strategy,” she said. “Latinx youth suffer things we would wish upon no one and yet we perform as successfully as our peers who are not attacked by society every day. OLP gives us a place where our voices are heard and where we can be our true selves. OLP is vital in Siler City and Chatham County for Latinx Youth and our families.”

OLP, an organization funded by the Hispanic Liaison is currently operating at Jordan-Matthews students, but is hoping to serve Hispanic students throughout the county. If you’re interested in joining Orgullo Latinx Pride youth group, please call Selina Lopez at 919-742-1448

Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com

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