On the night of September 29, 2022, FIA hosted its first candidate forum for school board and mayoral candidates. Among the 350 attendees was Stephisha Ycoy-Walton and her family. Stephisha didn’t know much about FIA and attended the forum to get informed about the candidates and issues.
Sitting in the first row in the Castlemont auditorium, Stephisha could feel something special happening.
“You could feel the energy in the room, and you could feel the power shift to the community,” Stephisha said. “And for me, it was like, ‘I need to know who this organization is.’”
Fast-forward to less than one year later – 364 days, to be exact – and Stephisha was working with other FIA parent and student leaders to organize FIA’s second candidate forum, for the District 5 school board seat.
“I felt good about being educated around the topic and then being able to share that with the community,” Stephisha said. “Volunteering was just what should naturally come next after you learn something, which is to teach. And that’s what the forum was.”
After the 2022 candidate forum, Stephisha and her wife Viveca became involved with FIA. As members of the Cox Elementary School community, where their son attends school, they organized and helped secure a $28 million grant for necessary safety upgrades to the school building.
Stephisha attended FIA leadership institutes, where she learned more about the low literacy and math proficiency rates for Black and Latino students. During discussion groups with other parents and students during the institutes, Stephisha would be asked how the data made her feel.
“I found myself always saying, ‘Well, this makes me angry,” Stephisha said. “So it’s like, if something makes you feel angry, what are you going to do about it? For me it was about, ‘How do I get involved? How do I create change?”
“I learned about the election and I placed my vote, and I also encourage other people to get educated and place their votes,” she added.
Stephisha said she has been encouraging other parents to get involved and volunteer in local elections as well.
“We’re okay by ourselves, but we’re totally better together,” Stephisha said. “I think parents being involved in elections allows them to take ownership in the decision that are made – or not made – regarding their child’s education. You can see which candidates actually are moving in solidarity with your views.”
During the planning for the 2023 candidate forum, Stephisha said she was especially impressed by the student organizers. She said parents working in partnership with youth is “a major game changer.”
“We’re raising future leaders and they are truely going to lead the next generation in the right way,” Stephisha said. “Our youth were totally involved in all aspects of the forum: they asked the questions, led the candidates through moments of transition, helped with the set-up and the dissemination of information.”
With election day less than a week away, Stephisha said that she and other parent volunteers have been checking in with each other to make sure they’ve done everything they can.
“As leaders, as community advocates, have we done our job to get properly educated?” Stephisha said. “Have we done our job to organize around the issues that matter? And have we done our job to help bring total collective power to move in the way that we need to move to actually create that change through voting?”