Sunday, August 04, 2013

Speeches from the KIPP Summit

I just watched Cintia’s speech. It’s UNBELIEVABLY powerful! Here’s my transcript of it:

Hi everyone, my name is Cintia Flores. I am an upcoming sophomore at the University of California in Santa Cruz and an alumni of KIPP Bridge. [cheers] Can I get a shout out – KIPP Bay Area!

On the 19th of October, 2007, all I could do was cry. I remember the day so clearly, like this happened this year. It was one of the hardest days I can remember as a KIPPster. Earlier that day, I had a test on How to Kill a Mockingbird. And it was in that seventh grade English classroom where I broke down to my closest friend – whom I actually just celebrated my 19thbirthday with.

I confessed to her – and to myself – that I had been questioning my sexuality since I was in the fifth grade. Fearing the possibility of losing all my friends for being different or a sinner, I kept all of my emotions to myself for two years, not telling a single soul my darkest secret.

Once revealing my longest-kept secret to my friend, I finally felt this level of inner peace. Although I was not open about this with all of my KIPP team and family, the strong bonds of genuine friendship and community that were created through moments and years of team-building and teamwork were not affected by my sexuality to those I was open with. They did not see me as anything else but Cintia, their friend and their teammate since we were 11 years old.

My fellow KIPPsters became my family and to this day our friendships remain, unaffected and unchanged by time and distance. By simply accepting me for who I was, my team and family unconsciously rose to the challenge to show me what true family, love and commitment really is.

[Cintia pauses to collect herself and says “sorry” to huge applause.]

They showed me unconditional love and support and thus gave me the only safe space I could comprehend at the time. When your actual family refuses to accept a huge part of who you are and you don’t have the vocabulary or the language to communicate to them or translate to them what you feel, friends and teachers become the support network that you wish you had at home. It was only until I moved to college when I finally felt emotionally strong enough to begin healing from many years of fear and sadness.

KIPP’s message of giving back to your community has influenced every aspect in my life today. As an openly gay Latina who is also a first-generation college student, with working-class migrant parents, from an underserved community, I strive to simply be happy and help my community. I want to be a positive role model for whomever finds themselves sitting in that classroom in the burgundy polo and khaki pants I wore that day, for the students that look like I do and come from homes like mine, for the students who felt as lost and hopeless as I did that day six years ago.

My goal is to start a nonprofit or a program that will serve queer students of color in Oakland. In order to reach my goal, I have gotten involved in many programs to improve my leadership and organizing skills. This past year, I participated in KIPP’s College Ambassador program, a peer-to-peer program that connects all the alumni on their college campuses. I also currently hold the corps members seat in the only student organization for queer students on color on my campus. Most recently, I attended a training in Los Angeles for a program called Young People For. YP4 provides young activists with the tools and resources necessary for us to bring our visions of social change to life.

I try to be as involved as I can so I am ready once it is my time to rise to the challenge and help my KIPP school, Oakland, and my whole community.

Every student has the right to be free from labels and have inner peace. As I strive to climb the mountain to college and of life itself, without the support of my KIPP family, I would have never been strong enough to be the happy and proud Cintia you see today. I would have not risen to the challenge. And for that, los agrades con todos – I thank them all.

Trust me, you won’t want to miss Marcos’s speech right afterward either. He was one of the first KIPPsters ever, starting in Houston in 1996. The youngest of 7 children, none of his older siblings finished high school, much less college, yet he did. I don’t have time to transcribe it all, but here’s the beginning and the end. So powerful…

I remember my first difficult day at KIPP was the summer of 1996. It was the most difficult day at KIPP because I remember Mr. Feinberg and Ms. Dippel [now Mike’s wife] telling me I would go to college.

I remember being the youngest of three older brothers and three older sisters who never graduated high school – and I thought, “Why would I go to college?”

I remember my commitment to go to KIPP that summer.

I remember Mr. Feinberg committing himself, saying he would do anything in his power to teach me.

I remember waking up at 5:45am to catch at 6:10 school bus.

I remember waking up before the sun came up and getting home after the sun had set.

And yet I remember being told I would go to college.

I remember doing homework in the kitchen while my family went to sleep.

And I remember having my teachers’ cell phone numbers.

I remember calling teachers at night for help on homework.

And I remember being told I would go to college.

The conclusion:

And just like many KIPPsters around the world, I have seen many things, the good and the bad, but without the dedicated teachers – who are not only teachers, but friends, coaches, second mothers, and second fathers – I would not be where I am today. I am proud to be a KIPPster. And without KIPP, I would have been running the streets and adding to the statistics of Hispanics in prison.

I’m one of many KIPPsters who have had it tough, but with the support of the dedicated teachers, I am one of the many KIPPsters who have climbed the mountain to college and beyond. We need more help. We need great teachers. We need more KIPPs and people who hear the bells to rise to the challenge. Thank you.

These two speeches capture what KIPP (and similar schools – in fact, this whole movement) are really all about: not just teaching children the three Rs and helping them do well on tests. Oh no, it’s far more than that: in so many cases, it’s literally saving lives.

And not just because of have amazing KIPP (and similar schools) are, but also because of how horrific the schools they’re replacing are. Once you understand this, you will understand that this isn’t a dry policy issue. Rather, it’s a moral issue. It is immoral to allow chronically failing schools to, year after year, decade after decade, condemn generation after generation of kids to broken, ruined lives. And it is doubly immoral to fight alternatives (like KIPP) with proven track records of dramatically changing the life outcomes of the majority of students (sadly, not all).

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