When I first learned I was going to be a Karel Fellow my mother and I were really excited because of all we have done to get me where I am today.
My mother and I moved from the Dominican Republic when I was 7 years old in search of better education and a better life. When we arrived to the United States my mother told me, “tu único trabajo ahora es ser una estudiante,” meaning your only job now is to be a student. My mother’s words resonated with me as I fell in love with education. And soon my hard work paid off. When I was 13, I was accepted into a program called A Better Chance (ABC). Through ABC, I attended a wonderful high school in Connecticut. Now, I am a rising junior at Franklin and Marshall College studying government and Arabic.
For years I have told my story to mentors, donors and adults, but I have never thought of telling my story to other young people like me. For some reason, I figured that young people in my community didn’t want to hear my story. At the end of the day, I was just another young Latina, just another immigrant following the American dream. So why would they want to hear my story?
Nonetheless, the Karel Fellowship and my internship with Urban Alliance have changed these feelings and have allowed me to explore the idea of storytelling.
Urban Alliance’s core program – the High School Internship Program – matches underserved high school seniors with paid, professional internships. The culmination of the internship experience is what Urban Alliance calls a public speaking challenge. Each year students from all regions come together and present about their experience to their mentors, Urban Alliance staff, family and their peers.
This is where I met Eva Mercado. Eva is a recent graduate of Justice High School in northern Virginia. She was one of the keynote speakers from her region. During her presentation, Eva talked about how she and her family delivered newspaper from an old warehouse that was more like a coal mine because of the terrible conditions. But everything changed when she began to intern for the Fairfax County Democratic Committee through Urban Alliance. Not only was this the perfect internship for Eva, who was already interested in politics, but it also set her on the right path for her desired future.
Her story deeply resonated with me because I saw myself in her. But her speech not only moved me, it also moved her peers. This experience made me reflect on the concept of storytelling. For years my audience has consisted of adults, but after seeing the impact that Eva’s words had on her peers, I felt inspired to share my story with young people.
But that was not all I learned.
Not only is storytelling and your audience important, but the messenger matters too. A few moments ago I shared Eva’s story, but it would have been way more powerful if Eva was telling the story herself because that is her experience and her truth.
As a young woman of color and an immigrant, it is very important for me to tell my story not only to adults, but to young people of similar backgrounds in order to uplift the communities that I am a part of. I’ve realized that I am the right messenger, and I will use this platform to share my story. I plan to do this not only in New York City and the United States, but also back home in the Dominican Republic.
This Fellowship taught me that the story you tell is very important and the messenger is too. But who you tell it too is even more important because they are the ones who take that in, translate it into their own lives and enact change.