Onward and Upward – ¡Adelante!

Emily is a creative, academically talented student involved in marching band. An inspirational motto on her bedroom wall reads, “Onward and Upward!”  The words speak to the positive possibilities for one’s self where the goal is not simply to survive hardship, but to progress and rise in spirit. The Spanish word adelante is sometimes used by Hispanic and Latinx serving organizations, advocacy groups and community programs to speak to this same spirit of perseverance and empowerment.

There are many individuals like Emily who progress through school with excellence and are recognized by teachers as outstanding students. What sometimes goes unrecognized is the toll on their spirit along the way. It’s confusing to be encouraged by one adult to reach for your dreams, and advised by another not to reach too far. It’s exhausting to be promoted as a “model student,” an ideal example for an entire Hispanic community. It’s traumatizing to learn that while you might be able to achieve your college dream, the status of your family in the U.S. is not certain. Fortunately, organizations like SLI exist to provide a space where students can feel safe to share their particular yet common experiences and receive strength in spirit from peers and mentors

Emily says, “I shouldn’t be scared to say what I want to say…or scared to do anything that I want to do…in the future.” We agree and we support her.

Thanks to Courtney Coffey and Bryan McIntyre of James Madison University’s School of Media Arts and Design (SMAD) for producing and editing this film for SMAD 303. The original full piece was screened at DocFest 2017, Harrisonburg Court Square Theatre. Thanks to Professor Shaun Wright for supporting JMU and SLI students.

For Love of Family and Community

How can love for family and community be empowering? Pay close attention to how Mary beams when she talks about her goals, and you will see and hear how love of family animates her to seek out challenges that will help her grow as a person, and in the process, create an environment for her sister’s growth as well.

Big thanks to Gabriella Molite, Nakiesha Lawrence, Debbie Cavazos, and Professor Shaun Wright of JMU’s School of Media Arts for producing a longer version of this video that was shown at the DocFest Film Festival in downtown Harrisonburg, VA.

Waiting for the Uncertain Future

Carlos was literally born on the grounds of the James Madison University campus, on what was then Rockingham Memorial Hospital. He is an American citizen, a resident of Harrisonburg, VA, and the eldest of his siblings. Unlike many of his high school peers, his major concern is not whether he’ll be accepted into a college when he graduates next year. His worry is where he will find the support of his family, let alone find home, if his parents are forced to return to two different countries of origin because both are not allowed to renew their Temporary Protected Status in the United States.  Continue reading

Then and Now

If you could give one piece of advice to a younger version of yourself, what would you say? Guillermo, Kellyn, and Helen of Harrisonburg High’s Class of 2018 did just that. Part I includes so many fun images of these students from video stories they made 2 years ago. But even if you don’t think they’ve changed much in terms of how they look, just listen to their maturity in Part 2. We think you’ll agree that these individuals are going to go far in their college dream to become leaders in our communities. Thanks to Professor Shaun Wright, and undergraduate students Bethany Warren and CJ Sander of JMU’s School of Media Arts and Design for their outstanding production.

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Guillermo’s Winning Spirit

By all accounts, Guillermo and his family are winners. He was a sophomore at the time this video was made, and he had an powerful story to tell about his family’s survival. This past spring, he emerged as a leader on the high school campus, wrestled in the state’s championship tournament, and accepting the role of mentor and tutor for younger high school students enrolled in the GEAR UP Virginia program. But what makes a winning spirit? And how do individuals survive in the face of trauma, loss, and displacement? Continue reading