At my high school in San Diego, California, about 70 percent of students are Latinx and maybe 20 percent Filipino-American. Basically, most of us are people of color—which is awesome, except when you realize the contributions of our communities were absent from the courses we were being taught. Going through my history books, the only people who looked like me at all were part of a mass genocide. It was like anything positive that had been done by brown or black people just didn’t exist according to the curriculum.
We might not have signs on drinking fountains anymore saying who can and can’t use them, but that doesn’t mean racism doesn’t exist in this country. It does, and it’s everywhere—it just looks different than it used to. The choice to leave the accomplishments of Black people, Mexican Americans, Filipino Americans, and so many other cultures out of our textbooks is racial injustice, and it reinforces dangerous stereotypes that are detrimental to us all.
I knew I had to stand up and create change—just asking for it wasn’t going to be enough—so I got talking to my friends about what a difference it could make to offer ethnic studies classes at our school. I knew some things I’d want to include in the course—like the work of Malcolm X and a lot of incredible female activists we weren’t learning about—but there’s so much more involved in creating a class than making a wish list of who we’d focus on.
Creating a whole curriculum is a massive undertaking. It was clear early on that I needed support—which is why I gathered a team of students to help and turned to Girl Scouts for mentorship and guidance. By applying for the Gold Award and following those processes, I had a whole framework and system to ensure every hour I spent was the most effective and meaningful. Having people who’ve completed ambitious work of their own to cheer me on, answer my questions, and help me troubleshoot challenges made all the difference.
In the end, I dedicated more than 700 hours over three years and introduced a rigorous ethnic studies curriculum to my school. I earned my Girl Scout Gold Award, which means so much to me as a longtime Girl Scout, but the thing that made me proudest was seeing the results of my work. Education can liberate people, and I’ve seen that in action. Students’ grades have gone up, and there’s a new sense of community and cultural pride on campus. There’s no doubt there are a lot of messed up things in the world, but when we stand up and take action, we can make them better.