Janelle Leonard has big plans this year. Janelle is a senior at Latitude High School and a FIA Student Leader. She’s got a lot going on: before the school year even started, she was on campus working at orientation with the school’s girls’ leadership club.
She figured since she was already there, she should swing by to speak with her school’s college counselor and principal about hosting a data town hall on campus around A-G completion rates.
“I think that’s the easiest way to get a bunch of people introduced to a new topic, where they can kind of build and help each other,” she said. “I especially do not like the stats, like how many Black and Brown students are not able to graduate eligible to apply to college. I was like, ‘I have to do this for my school.’”
Janelle can’t help but get involved: it’s in her blood.
“My moms are activists,” she said. “I grew up protesting, volunteering in homeless shelters. I grew up with a sense of, ‘I want to help people. I want to help give people a platform to speak on what they want to say.’”
This summer, Janelle participated in FIA’s Summer Leadership Institute, where over four weeks parent and youth leaders learned about the current status of Quality and equity in Oakland public schools, while also discussing the political dynamics of Oakland education and what is at stake in the November Oakland District 5 election.
Janelle said she made a lot of connections at the leadership institute and especially enjoyed having one-to-one meetings with parents and students to hear their stories.
“(The meetings) to me started off as a good way to bond, but they also give me good information,” Janelle said. “Because having one-to-ones, I get to hear from them about how the system has affected them and how they’re getting through it, and the ways that we can help each other.”
Javier Barraza, FIA’s Lead Youth Organizer, said Janelle was already a leader before the summer leadership institute started. Some of the growth he’s seen from her is around gaining more confidence in sharing her story.
“I think that’s something that’s really difficult for a lot of us, especially Black and Brown young people,” said Javier, who also grew up in Oakland. “Growing up in Oakland, you can get used to keeping your head down and not bringing attention to yourself to stay out of trouble. But I remember talking to (Dr.) Charles (Cole) and he was like, ‘Nah, you need to let people know who you are. Share your story of self, take up space in a room.’ There is power in that.
“And I have seen Janelle grow in that way where she is now comfortable sharing her story, who she is, and what she’s planning to do,” Javi said.
Janelle is planning to do a lot. She’s taking a college psychology class and thinking about where she wants to go to college next year. She plans to be the first member of her family to graduate from a four-year university. She also will be organizing with the girls’ leadership club and as a FIA student leader.
“I’m a perfectionist and an over-achiever – it’s a part of who I am – and I just like to understand how people work,” Janelle said. “My family, we didn’t grow up with a lot of resources so everything we have has been worked for. That’s just my story. I want people to see that you don’t have to go through trials and tribulations to be educated or to learn information. That it all should be accessible to you.”
Families in Action for Quality Education (FIA) was founded in 2019 and now has grown to serve over 16,000 district and charter school families. FIA has graduated over 500 parents, youth, educators, and school board members from our leadership institutes to advocate for access to quality education across the city of Oakland. For more information and to sign up, visit FIA’s website, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.