Sitting in a room filled with thousands of people from other high schools, colleges, and various organizations, my eyes were trained on the speaker, a senior currently attending St. Louis University High School. My eyes began to tear up as he spoke about his struggle with racial discrimination in his community, as he spoke about how terrified he was for both himself and his brothers when Michael Brown was shot a mere three miles away from his home.
My eyes never wandered and my ears never tuned out as he continued to speak about how so many futures were being denied for African American males, telling the story about how he became an advocate for racial justice in his school’s community and how he’s working towards change.
This year’s theme at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice was bridges. The ten of us from Pres, along with Assistant Director of Community Involvement Crystal Catalan, Religion Teacher Eric Buell, and our friends from Bellarmine were able to spend a weekend in D.C. learning about how we can build bridges in our own communities so that justice can be achieved.
This annual teach-in, headed by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, is inspired by the deaths of six Jesuit priests who were murdered in 1989 at the University of Central America in El Salvador. The six Jesuit martyrs were assassinated because they fought for peace in their war-stricken country through their religious faith. Their inspirational lives and their deaths have shaped the approach on social justice issues today both locally and abroad. Today this teach-in is aimed at empowering the youth to speak out against the injustices that are occurring in our own communities and globally.
We began the trip with a little sightseeing. Visiting Arlington Cemetery and the changing of the guard, gazing up at a magnificent Lincoln at his monument, absorbing the courage of Martin Luther King Jr., and experiencing heartbreak and despair at the Holocaust museum.
The following evening marked the beginning of the conference, which featured several powerful speakers. We were also able to attend multiple smaller sessions of our choice that were focused on narrower topics like fair trade clothing and trafficking at the Superbowl to the struggle with immigration and controversies such as solitary confinement and violence at the borders.
Senior Jessica Hom attended a session on bringing pure water to the Northern Triangle, “The sister who presented the session was open to sharing her failures as well as her successes bringing a water purifier to Honduras. It was inspiring to know that she is now successful and that I could do something similar in the future.”
Monday marked the end of the trip, but not before we had the chance to convene on Capitol Hill for a quick rally and prayer session before we all headed off to meet with our local representatives and advocate.
The groups from Pres and Bellarmine, along with other schools such as Serra High School and Sacred Heart – Menlo Atherton, had the opportunity to meet with the staff members of three local Congressional representatives: Dianne Feinstein, Anna Eshoo, and Barbara Boxer. During these advocacy sessions we students were able to make our voices be heard, speak from the heart and advocate for everything we had learned about and experienced over the past few days at the conference.
“Getting to hear and discuss in depth what people are doing and what we can do to in their efforts was amazing,” said Senior Paola Gonzalez. “The sessions gave me hope as I was able to see that there are many of us working towards the same goal.”
It wasn’t until after attending the conference that I realized the significance of each of the places we visited beforehand while sightseeing. These monuments represented empowered people of our past who were fighting for justice in both our country and our world. But today we are the present and the future of the greats of the past, we are now the empowered and this trip has helped me come to that wonderful realization.