Mindful Teens Spotlight: Young Activists Speak Up

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We recently connected with two Lamorinda Activists this week, after hearing them speak at the Orinda Peaceful Protest. Miramonte high school student Ava Moran and Howard University student Kaylyn Goode provided great insights on their personal experiences with racism, and suggestions on what we can all do next to keep “fighting the good fight” towards racial justice.

ML: Tell us a little bit about yourselves — where you’re from, what are you up to right now?

AM: I’m Ava Moran and I’m currently an incoming senior at Miramonte HS in Orinda. I’m adopted into a white family so I have been here my entire life.

I’m the co-president for the Miramonte BSU which stands for Black Student Union so that’s where my passion for social activism and social change stemmed from. Once I got into that group, I realized there was a big problem with the school system and the environment at Miramonte.

I’m worried about the minorities coming into Miramonte this next year and the years to come and so I really want to create change and a difference on the school campus and in the community because I, as a Black girl, have experienced a lot of racism and that was not fun. I’m really trying to prevent, to the best of my ability, that from happening [to others] and to make the community aware of the things that are happening to minorities in a predominantly white community.

What I’m really happy about is that people are now finally becoming aware of the situations. Especially after the video [of George Floyd] got leaked, people have started to have that conversation of, “Oh, this is really happening in our community?” People are starting to realize and understand that this is a problem and it needs to be stopped. I think that’s the first step, and I’m really looking forward to the next steps that can be taken by this community and this school system. 

KG: Hi, my name is Kaylyn Goode and I am a rising sophomore at Howard University in Washington D.C. I started activism work when I was at Miramonte. I was the treasurer of our BSU and I think my passion for the work that’s happening now, well I think of Ava as my daughter, so I’m trying to help Orinda and Miramonte to become a safer place for my child.

I see all the Black students at Miramonte as the next generation of me, and all I want to do is try to leave this place a little bit safer, a little bit more comfortable for them. When I was at Miramonte, I came in as a junior…I haven’t lived here my whole life. I was born in New Jersey but raised in Wisconsin and moved here three years ago. It was very difficult coming in as a junior and as one of the only Black students. I was very fortunate to have about 7 other black students in my grade, but like Ava was talking about, the incoming grade has only 4 black students.

And as of right now it doesn’t seem like we can increase the number of Black students coming in, but if we can make Miramonte a more welcoming place for them so that they don’t experience racism to the extent that we did I think that’s all we can really ask for.

I think a step that we can take is simply to start conversations, and I know it’s uncomfortable especially in a community that’s predominantly white, because a lot of people think that it doesn’t happen here because we don’t have very many people of color. But racism exists here in Lamorinda and I think just having a conversation, in the schools and in the communities, is always the first step because once people start to have compassion and empathy for the situations that people of color go through then I think people really want to fight together for change.

ML: Absolutely. You both mentioned this idea of starting conversations, opening up the dialogue, and I know you’re doing a lot of work in our community here in Lamorinda and I’m sure elsewhere as well. Can you just tell me a little bit more about what actions you’re taking?

AM: I’m also part of Equiteam which is kind of the Equity Organization and Club on the Miramonte campus. We were planning to have academy sessions for students at Miramonte that focused around racism, discrimination and racial slurs…then we had the pandemic, so you know, that happened.

I’m also part of the Multi-Cultural Educational Reform Committee and we are asking the superintendent to change the curriculum because our curriculum is so euro-centric that it doesn’t bring out a lot of different perspectives. So for example, English classes — it’s a requirement for English classes to have books written by people of color, and we’re trying to get the history curriculum to kind of shift towards that, but it’s a little bit harder. But that’s what we’re working on right now in terms of locally and the community.

ML: That is incredible. Kaylyn what have you been up to?

KG: I have been working with Ava and our principle Ms. Parks because she is very passionate about making Miramonte more anti-racist in the coming years. So, we’ve been working with her on curriculum and in general how to make the students of color feel more welcomed on campus.

 I’ve also been working with Ava to try and organize another protest in Lamorinda, because it was amazing to see the turn out for Orinda, Moraga and Lafayette; there were amazing protests and amazing speakers, but I feel like people want the conversation to stop now because we checked off the box of having a protest and holding a Black Lives Matter sign but the conversation cannot stop there!

I think the white students are the majority, about 65% I believe in the district, but that means there’s 35% of students who are uncomfortable on a daily basis and who are feeling not very safe in this space all the time. I think it’s a matter of just making sure that if people are uncomfortable, it’s going to be okay, but we have to start working together to work on that.

Then I’m also registering people to vote. I’ll be at a protest this weekend in Martinez and I hope to do more just around Contra Costa County to get more people to vote. Because one part of it is in the school community and one part is in the voting booth, just getting out there and making sure our voices are heard. 

ML: That leads me to my question: there is so much work to be done from a curriculum level and in the voting booths — what are some of the other desired outcomes you have if you kept doing this work? What are some of the next steps for this community to take?

A: That’s a good question. For me personally, I’m very passionate about getting the inter-district transfer ban reversed…I just think that bringing inter-district transfers gives a really unique perspective to a predominantly white area. Orinda is called “the bubble” because we don’t really get that outside world experience here, and we’re stuck playing a narrative of being the “utopian town” where everything is perfect. But that’s not the case.

Another next step I think would be having people talk to their families. We have the conversation at the protest, like that’s the first step..I think that’s the most harm done to the minority community, the Black community, is  when that conversation is not had, it then ultimately it affects us.

K: For me, I’m working in partnership with the team that Ava’s on, the Multi-Cultural Education Reform team, to try to increase the amount of teachers of color. I’ve noticed that when there are no teachers that look like you or just one teacher who might look like you who might share similar experiences as you, there is not always a safe space for students to go in case they’re called a racial slur, or they experience all these microaggressions that people don’t want to talk about because it makes them uncomfortable.

In my perfect world, it would be a lot different. Nobody would be called a racial slur, nobody would experience microaggressions, like “Oh you talk so fluently or nicely for a Black person, you are pretty for a Black person.” There are a lot of things people don’t even know that are inherently racist or inherently racially insensitive that we are trying to educate people about. So in a perfect world, parents would be talking to their children at a very young age, and teaching them about compassion at a very young age so they can grow up to be change-makers and fighting the good fight for people who look like me and Ava.

In a perfect world, everybody would feel safe in their own skin, and…proud of where they came from and proud of who they are. And in a perfect world, me and Ava would have learned our history in school instead of me having to go to a historically Black university to finally learn anything about my ancestors besides the fact that they were slaves here. There is no reason that’s all I should learn about my ancestors. So, in a perfect world, Black students and students of color would start to learn that their life matters, and their history matters, their lineage matters, where they come from matters. And not everything has to be euro-centric focused, because America is the Melting Pot and I think we should act more like it. 

This is a edited transcript of our chat with Ava and Kaylyn. Check out the full interview here

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