The Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina exists to reduce poverty through action, advocacy and leadership. Advocacy tells a story, and there is no better organization to tell the story of DREAMer students than The Hispanic Alliance. On January 26th, the first cohort of the Student DREAMers Alliance met for their fourth session and discussed leadership, policy change and most importantly, their fears and hopes for the future.

The Hispanic Alliance is a convening and intermediary organization serving as a bridge of a communication and understanding between Hispanics and the broader community in the Upstate. A grant award through the Foundation’s Immigrant Families Initiative enabled the Hispanic Alliance to launch the Student DREAMers Alliance, led by Adela Mendoza and Idaly Partridge.

This network develops a group of young leaders in Greenville to increase awareness of education inequality as well as to advocate for equal access to higher education in S.C. The program provides participants the space and resources needed to discover their own potential and equips them with the knowledge, skills and tools to position them for success and next generation leadership.

The January 2017 Student DREAMer Alliance session held at Furman University was facilitated by Justice John Cannon Few of the South Carolina Supreme Court. Few focused heavily on encouraging students to use their voices to have their stories heard.

“Advocacy is about telling a story,” Few said, “Everyone can be your instrument of change, your stories have the power to get others to listen.”

Throughout the day students candidly shared their various life experiences of leaving their families, being stereotyped and feeling grateful for what they have. A constant thread throughout conversation was overcoming their fears.

“If others could see who we are instead of just a stereotype—the decision makers would see things so differently,” Ana, a Student DREAMer, said. “We fear programming being taken away, but we can’t let fear overcome us.”

Although this program’s vision started with the Hispanic Alliance, a huge part of their success is their partnership with the supportive staff at Carolina High School. With a population of 700+ students, Carolina High School is the highest poverty high school in Greenville County with a 77 percent minority-majority student population.

“We were interested in this program because students deserve the opportunity. We have awesome and beautifully smart students that have this weight on their shoulders that they shouldn’t have,” Michael Delaney, Principal of Carolina High School, said. “Doors are closed on them everywhere they turn. This program is making sure they can meet their dreams.”

James Campbell, Spanish Teacher at Carolina High School, can see a change within the students who participate. “These students are down sometimes, and why wouldn’t they be? We have a lot of students who don’t see a future after high school because of what’s waiting for them after,” Campbell said. “This group has allowed for better resources for students—they now see they have like-minded peers who face the same things. I see them being more focused in all classes, and they definitely have more hope.”

The session wrapped up with a reflective exercise based on Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise.” Students discussed how this poem spoke directly to their struggles and victories throughout life.

“In this poem, I think she is talking to all of us in this room,” Keren, a Student DREAMer, said. “It reminds us that amongst the storm, there is always a rainbow at the end.” They ended the session pledging to each other, together, they will rise.

When reflecting on the site visit, Foundation Vice President of Initiatives and Public Policy Stephanie Cooper-Lewter shared, “It’s amazing to invest in a vision, a project that has never been done before and watch it unfold into reality. We applaud the Hispanic Alliance for building the next generation of student leaders by offering support and hope to so many students at a time when they need it most.”