Civil Rights Activist Speaks At JJC

Civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez will be coming to Joliet Junior College for the fourth annual Latin@ Student Empowerment Conference on April 17th.

Sylvia Mendez is a hidden legend of the civil rights movement. Not many people know who she is, but she affected change in powerful ways.

According to her Wikipedia page, at age eight, Ms. Mendez played an instrumental role in the Mendez v. Westminster case, the landmark desegregation case of 1946. The case successfully ended de jure segregation in California and paved the way for integration and the U.S. civil rights movement.

The student empowerment conference is by invitation only and is held for high school students from Joliet, Lockport, Plainfield, and Romeoville high schools.

The mission of this event is to “empower youth with information and inspiration to go to college, and to let them know that JJC is an affordable and acceptable choice,” said Martha Villegas Miranda, Latino Outreach & Retention Specialist at JJC.

There will be three different workshops that the high school students will attend at this conference that will be facilitated by JJC faculty and staff.

The workshops will encompass admissions, financial aid, and current JJC students sharing their stories about the nuances of going to college. The volunteer students from JJC will act as ambassadors; not only will they be delivering speeches, but they will help with the workshops, prepare lunch, and manage and welcome the crowds

One of the focuses of the conference will be to help those impoverished teens who don’t have access to as many resources as traditional incoming freshman.

“A lot of times these are first generation students, they might be undocumented and don’t really see themselves going to college. I really want to connect them to our students so that they can see [our students] as role models,” said Villegas Miranda.

The student empowerment conference will have a keynote speech delivered by civil rights heroine Sylvia Mendez. Despite being an activist icon, Villegas Miranda worries that many don’t know who Ms. Mendez is. “It’s important to me to highlight who Sylvia Mendez is and how she is important to the whole civil rights movement.”

Villegas Miranda continued, “I didn’t know about her until maybe about five years ago and I asked myself ‘why don’t I know about her?’ She’s not taught in our U.S. history, but she is a part of U.S. history.”

So this year’s student empowerment conference will not only help prospective students with issues surrounding college life, it will also be a history lesson on forgotten aspects of the civil rights movement.

Villegas Miranda expanded on this idea: “I think that sometimes when [people] talk about civil rights [they] think it’s a black and white issue; I don’t think [they] understand that there have been latinos in U.S. history who have fought to be a part of the educational system.”

Andrew Hanton
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