The power of stories and lived experience—this was the theme of a recent Voices That Matter Most workshop KIND held at our office in Boston with clients and staffers from Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley’s office. KIND’s Voices project trains clients across the country in storytelling/sharing and advocacy so that they can become advocates for themselves and their peers.
KIND client Alex described with great emotion the challenges he faced coming to the United States from El Salvador at 13 years old to seek safety from gang members who were threatening to kill him unless he joined their gang. Alex gained U.S. protection with help from KIND and is now working at JP Morgan Chase.
Congresswoman Pressley’s District Policy Advisor and Immigration Liaison Ronald Claude explained the vital importance of stories to the Congresswoman’s work and to advocacy as a whole. “Every little victory we’ve gained is because people have shared their stories,” he said. Ronald explained that he is a first generation Haitian immigrant and well understands the challenges immigrants face.
Luz Villar, Executive Assistant to the Congresswoman, said, “People who have had the courage to share their stories even when it was very hard have led the way. We still have DACA because people shared their stories; people won’t give up on them because of their stories.”
She added, “You don’t need a college degree, speak English, or be an accomplished speaker. Your story can still be very powerful.”
These words resonated with both Alex and Luis, who shared what led them to come to the United States and why they wanted to help motivate others like them to share their stories. Alex, who also shared his story at KIND’s Annual Gala in 2018, described how he was forced to flee El Salvador due to gang threats and extortion. Fighting back tears, he recounted the difficult challenges he faced on his journey to reach the U.S. and how KIND was able to provide legal representation for his case, “If it wasn’t for KIND, I don’t know where I’d be. They changed my life completely.”
Luis, listening intently to Alex from across the room, also shared that his story was similar. He briefly described his experience being in a detention center and how anxious and confused he felt at having to share and sleep in a room, which he referred to as “the ice box” with up to 62 other migrants. Now, thanks to the support of KIND and his mentors, he is thriving with hopes to join the U.S. Army.
As the workshop drew to a close, Luz and Ronald discussed other ways youth can share their stories. These included at roundtables, vigils and rallies. “There’s power in convening, especially with those we share commonalities with,” Luz said.
Alex and Luis were excited and determined to take what they learned from Luz and Ronald to continue working with KIND and advocate on behalf of unaccompanied children.