By Perla Bustillos
Ednium: The Alumni Collective
There is no better feeling than seeing Denver Public Schools (DPS) alumni hold important decision-making positions in our communities. It is even more empowering when an alumnus has overcome significant adversity in life and owns their story to positively uplift and impact others.
A First-generation College Student Finds His Voice
TeRay Esquibel is one of those alumni. He graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in southwest Denver, and went on to become the first in his family to graduate college, earning his Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Denver in 2015. Students like TeRay face many obstacles on the path to college, including the belief that higher education is not for them. The issue is that TeRay is seen as an anomaly, and while his path has been extraordinary, we know for a fact that there are thousands of students within Denver Public Schools that have the skill sets to thrive. Today, TeRay is a successful young leader in Denver in charge of advocacy and partnerships with RootED because of the support he had around him.
While in his position with RootED, it didn’t take him long to notice that decisions were being made without real input from the impacted communities.
“‘I realized there were a lot of people who did not share my lived experience utilizing my story to gain moral authority over a conversation about the direction of my community,” TeRay said.
Opening the Door of Opportunity
It was clear that the existing power structures lacked this perspective. It wasn’t enough to be invited to tables that were built to oppress. It didn’t feel right that the people who developed the core of who he is today were not being validated as respected leaders.
“We need to build our own tables and develop with love and integrity the voices lost so we can own our own stories past and build our future together,” TeRay said.
To give this vision a foundation, a new nonprofit organization, Ednium: The Alumni Collective, was born.
From Opportunity to Outcomes
During the Summer of 2019, a series of events, called Design Studios, were organized with funding from RootED, organizational support from Turn Corps, and in partnership with the Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF). These Design Studios brought together 150+ DPS alumni and students with diverse backgrounds to reflect on their educational experience and discuss potential changes and classroom innovations. These blue sky, wide open brainstorming and discussion sessions resulted in 10 broad priorities, of which five were selected by the alumni for further development. These five recommendations were then honed by self-nominated alumni delegates and presented to DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova, the senior leadership team, and individual board members.
One of the five recommended outcomes of the Design Studios was a strong desire among alumni to develop their leadership and advocacy skills, so they feel prepared to contribute in spaces where critical decisions are made. This led to the launch of our inaugural series of Leadership Labs that helped 20 alumni grow in confidence telling their stories, bridging networks, and building a greater understanding of state/local policy and the levers of impact and change. These alumni quickly realized what a strong and diverse group of leaders they already are. The power they bring together is exponentially empowering and enlightening. They proved this again while creating their graduating capstone project. These projects ranged from mental/health–related to financial/essential life skill–related, all helping them to grow in their professional and everyday lives. Overall, many of these projects circled back to parallel and build upon ideas and recommendations from the DPS alumni Design Studios.
Growing a Presence in the Community
Next steps for DPS alumni who graduated from the Leadership Labs include getting connected to mentors who will provide guidance on how to help these alumni exercise their new leadership skills and implement their capstone projects.
Next steps for Ednium: The Alumni Collective include continued support of alumni efforts from the Leadership Lab and the 2019 Design Lab to drive changes at DPS for the benefit of our most impacted communities, as well as running another Leadership Lab for DPS alumni this fall. If you are a recent DPS graduate, including current DSF Scholars and DSF Alumni, and are interested in participating in this program, please contact Perla@ednium.org for more information.
Ednium: The Alumni Collective is building the community infrastructure to ensure stories like TeRay’s are the rule rather than the exception. Ednium works to provide DPS alumni with increased opportunities to become a powerful voice and learn that their voice is an asset that creates positive change in the community. Ednium: The Alumni Collective is the catalyst for change, not just for the community, but for generations to come.