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Who Asked Us? What Student Activism Means to Me

New America Media, Commentary, Shenekah Cayetano Posted: Sep 19, 2009

Editors note: The Community Coalition of Los Angeles runs South Central Youth Empowered through Action, a program that helps develop African-American and Latino youth leaders who can create positive change in their schools and their community. Over Labor Day weekend, SCYEA took 30 youth on a Bay Area college tour where students visited major universities and met with local community leaders and social justice activists. One of those youth, Shenekah Cayetano, kept this diary of what the trip meant for her future. Who Asked Us? is a regular column of youth views on education

Day One: What Student Activism Means to Me

I joined SCYEA because I wanted to learn more about what happens after high school.

In middle school and the beginning of high school, I didnt think of going to college; my classes werent important like the ones I have now. Enough people didnt push me to go, meaning schools, neighborhoods, friends, all of those people on the side who want you to fail. Living in the ghetto makes it difficult for me to go to school and pay attention.

Shenekah Cayetano (right) with friendOther things are going on around me and its hard to focus when youre not fully there. I am a very smart kid, and I love to read, but the environment I live in causes me to have to deal with reality in a painful way.

Living not only in South Central, but other poor environments, we arent encouraged or motivated because the society tries to keep us where we are. Drug dealing and illegal prostitution are the life we choose, not because we want to, but because we are more or less forced to.

Being a student activist, to me, is like winning American Idol. Everyone knows who you are, and people admire you for what you do. Fighting for what I believe in without worrying about what might happen next is the best feeling in the world. No one can stop you or make you go for or against what you want to fight for, but you. Helping my community and other communities is like dying for your family, for someone you love.

We are basically all one family if you take everything back to the beginning. On my trip to go see the Black Panthers, I met three of the activists: David Hilliard, Jimbo Sudan, and Taki Boydan. I got a chance to interview them and receive more information that the press didnt talk about or maybe even know about. They took us on a tour to see where their movement first started and where some of their close activist friends had died.

I learned so much from the Black Panthers. They took me back to the '60s and gave me a decent description of what their lives were like. This Bay Area trip is so fun and Im looking forward to seeing more. Ill keep you guys updated and this is the most fun Ive had. Wish you could be HERE!!!!!!

Day Two: Where I Was and Where I Am Now

I was not looking forward to going to San Francisco State University on Sunday. I heard it was unbelievingly cold and disgusting.

When we reached and touched the campus, the first thing that came to sight and caught my attention were the murals. I love art and find myself interested in its history. My opinion about SFSU instantly changed while we waited for our tour guides, I expected more than what was told.

I felt a connection more because I knew my tour guides and felt more open to listen to what they said about the campus. The tour went well and everyone enjoyed each other. We got a chance to check out the dorms and pretty much saw all the buildings and different academic programs.

One of the questions I asked my tour guide was what happens if you dont have a high enough GPA to get in to Cal State, but everything else shows youre eligible? He told me that you can get in with something called a personal essay, which gives you a chance to be taken in to consideration and get accepted.

Before we left San Francisco we asked as many questions as we could. San Francisco has really changed my opinion about going to college, and so far thats where Im interested in going.

Looking back at where I was and where I am now, I wouldnt change anything. I grew up out here where there are opportunities and Im thankful for it. I never thought I would get a chance to go out and visit college campuses. It shows me a lot and entices me to think beyond what I see and know. I came from a poor environment living in Belize, barely making it, barely going to school.

While I was in the second grade, I had to stay home and help my mother cook and clean while she worked. Most people say, you know thats not true, but you cant tell someone anything about themselves unless youve experienced it. I had to play the mother role as a child, and school was not important to me.

I left Belize for America in 1999 to start a new life with my father. I have not gone back home to Belize but once since then. I thank SCYEA and my family for supporting me, and America for my opportunities. I wouldnt change my position or my past for the world.

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