What are you going to do? What are you going to do? What are you going to do?
In 2007, my first book, Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina was published and as I toured the country to promote it, I tried to work in visits to middle and high schools speaking and empowering young Latinas about the issues and stories discussed in the book.
At each school, I met amazing young women with astounding hopes and big dreams. I want to be a doctor, a veterinarian, a teacher, they would tell me.
Yes, yes, yes, I would say. And then I’d drive away haunted by the statistics I had come across in my research.
What are you going to do?
As friends and colleagues asked me how the book tour was going, I kept returning to this question. Soon, I was hosting focus groups with women of all backgrounds to talk about these issues. Together, we forged a way forward and created Circle de Luz, a non-profit based in Charlotte, North Carolina that radically empowers young Latinas by supporting their transformation through extensive mentoring, holistic programming and scholarship funds for further education.
Founded in 2008, Circle de Luz begins working with Latinas in seventh grade, selecting students who may or may not see high school graduation in their future, and they move through our program as a cohort group until high school graduation. Each Circle de Luz class experiences monthly programs that empower them to be more academically successful, prepare them for their futures, expose them to unique opportunities, encourage them to be responsible for their health and wellbeing, and allow them to contribute to their communities.
But Circle de Luz’s impact does not end with the thoughtful programs and support we give our hijas (what we call the young women in our program). Each Circle de Luz class is supported by a group of women we call m’ijas, who hail from all over the country and are from all backgrounds, and who serve as volunteers and mentors to our hijas and also commit to giving an annual gift of $100 a year for the duration of their class’s participation in the program. The annual gifts from our m’ijas create a scholarship fund for our hijas.
When our hijas graduate from high school and enroll in a post-graduate educational experience, they receive a minimum of a $5,000 scholarship to help them with their education. Our m’ijas hail from New York to California, Washington to Georgia, and actively root for our hijas as they receive thank you notes, videos, newsletters, annual reports, and email updates.
This fall, we will recruit our newest class, the Class of 2019, into Circle de Luz. As each young woman takes the stage with her parents to be formally inducted into the program, she will know that she is standing there because of the support and commitment of women from all over the country who wanted to change the statistics—women who could no longer stand not having an answer to the question: What are you going to do?