STUDENTS | June 23, 2020
Why One High School Junior Says Writing is the Key to Impactful Advocacy
When writing a letter to her state representative advocating for gender equality, Britney Q., a junior at Back of the Yards High School, wasn’t only thinking about her own needs. Instead, she pushed for change based on young women who were fighting for their rights in Pakistan. By illustrating themes that transcend geographic boundaries, such as the intertwined relationships between gender roles, educational achievement, and political representation, she was able to explore the global reach of the issue at hand while still keeping her writing personal.
Her efforts did not go unnoticed. In December, the Pulitzer Center published Britney’s letter as a model of written advocacy. However, she didn’t write this letter just to win an award. Every part of her life, from her upbringing on the Southwest Side of Chicago to her Chicago Public Schools (CPS) education, has taught her the importance of learning from others and using your own experiences to empower those around you.
“As a society, it’s important for us to talk about the issues that we are facing and know that we don’t live in a bubble, even though we sometimes think we do,” she said. “Someone from across the world could be facing the same problem that I am, and if you don’t expose yourself to different experiences, no one else will do it for you.”
While Britney has always considered herself creative, she has gained a deeper understanding of the power of the written word as a high school student. She is currently working towards her International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma and especially enjoys exploring cultural themes and her own identity through literature and poetry in her Spanish classes. Over the years, Britney has learned that empowering her peers starts with recognizing that everyone approaches problems, engages with their community, and expresses their identity differently.
“Students—especially females—need to keep on writing and expressing themselves. There are different identities everywhere, so to empower one another we need to openly address that we are here to learn from each other,” she said. “We need to move past stereotypes and understand that just because someone has a different way of looking at something doesn’t mean that they’re more intelligent than someone else.”
Note: The photos of Britney in this story were taken on March 2, 2020.
Outside of the classroom, theater is Britney’s main outlet for expressing herself and the issues that she cares about. She acts, sings, and even writes her own plays. As part of Free Street Theater, she says that learning from the other CPS students in her ensemble has impacted her outlook on social justice. Her experiences as an actress have only strengthened her belief that students need to have opportunities to interact with and impact their communities, and that these opportunities need to be equitable for students of all backgrounds.
“If a student is not advocating for their community, it is probably because they don’t know their community as much,” she said. “I want more Latinx stories to be told so people can learn about the reality of who my community is and what we stand for.”
Recently, Britney was asked if theater has the power to change the world. As she thought about her aspirations to pursue theater after high school and become a successful actress or music director, she answered “yes” without any hesitation. But, after thinking about the question further, she changed her response.
“Theater gives you the tools to change the world, but the person changes the world,” she said. “It is giving me the power to shape the world. A knowledgeable Latina has the power to shape the world.”
The final line of Britney’s letter to Representative Jesús García is the same: “A knowledgeable Latina has the power to shape the world.” She could not have predicted that—less than one year after writing it—she would have the opportunity to shape the world on a greater scale than ever before. In May, she created a youth-led art page on Instagram to connect local Black and Brown artists with job opportunities and provide a platform for community members to recommend books and other forms of art. She has also spent much of her time researching and providing resources for those looking online for reliable information about COVID-19 and has also, of course, written down some of her own thoughts and feelings.
She sees the current unrest in Chicago not as a conclusion, but as the beginning of a push for greater social change. Wanting to be ready to contribute as much as possible in the future, her current focus is educating herself and others about how they can learn from the inequities of the past and present to create a more just Chicago in the future. As Britney has learned, an activist will not only want to shape the world to better her own community, but every community.
“The best thing we can all do during unexpected times like these is to get educated,” she said. “I cannot stress it enough. The fight is barely starting.”