How NJEA Preservice helped me become an advocate

by Daniela Ceballos, NJEA Preservice Secretary, Rutgers Graduate School of Education

I am an immigrant and the current political climate of the country has scared me as it has scared other members of the immigrant community. As an immigrant, I felt it was important that I get involved and do something to help, but I didn’t know what I could do.

Last May, I received an invitation to join the Bridges Group, a coalition of teachers that look to build bridges and not walls. Within this group, I was given the opportunity to receive training about the rights of undocumented immigrants in the New Jersey. This “Train the Trainer” session opened my eyes to what knowledge could do to empower people.

After my training, I started to hear stories about children missing school because they were frightened by stories of the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) Agency, coming into people’s homes. The stories, the reactions, and the feelings were overwhelming. I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t know what an NJEA Preservice member could possibly do.

I invite you to consider how you are having an impact on your community, because no matter how small your gesture, you are working for a better world.

At the NJEA Summer Leadership Conference I took a workshop on public speaking. For my practice speech, I spoke about why teachers should receive the immigration “Train the Trainer” trainings and organize “Know Your Rights” workshops in their communities. A few months after the workshop, I was contacted by a teacher from Freehold Township who wanted me to come to her school and give a Know Your Rights workshop to the members of the school community. We did the workshop, and it was a success. Although we didn’t have a big crowd, we had parents who appreciated all of the information that we gave them and how we helped them to overcome their fears.

Now we are about to do our second Know Your Rights workshop in Freehold, and I’m in contact with more teachers from other districts to try to do more of these workshops.

I never thought I could make a difference, but like Nelson Mandela said in his 2003 speech at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I believe that by sharing my knowledge with members of the community, I am giving them the tools to empower themselves and fight fear with facts. I invite you to consider how you are having an impact on your community, because no matter how small your gesture, you are working for a better world. 

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