Students in Des Moines, Iowa who have received immigration status through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, are testing their cinematography skills each year in a contest sponsored by American Friends Service Committee.
Claudia Thrane, Youth Program Coordinator, offers a scholarship opportunity each year to local high school and college students, ages 16-26,who are willing to both submit their movie and participate in ongoing trainings on topics such as social justice and community organizing. This spring marks the fourth round of the contest. The program continues to grow and expand as word of their powerful message spreads.
What began as a small project designed to give DACA youth more of a voice in their community as well as access to college scholarships has grown and expanded into a group sought after at community education events. The students have spoken at universities, public meetings and fundraising events. They share their stories, their struggles and their hopes for justice and equality. One target audience is teachers in training. Thrane and her students feel strongly that teachers should learn more about the perspectives, experience, and challenges of the undocumented youth who will surely be in their future classrooms.
The students are currently working on two films to show at community events.
Thrane shares her successes and challenges in working with high school students. Their passion, unique perspectives and their willingness to learn new skills all inspire her to continue growing the program. She recognizes that high school students are busy due to class schedules, family responsibilities and part-time jobs. Her group meets when the students are available – often on evenings and on weekends.
In 2015, they adopted the name Empowering Latinos in Iowa and created their own Facebook page. They stand at the ready to combat local intolerance and prejudice. Earlier in 2016, after students at a local high school screamed, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” during a basketball game between their mostly Caucasian team and a racially diverse team, Empowering Latinos in Iowa went to the high school to share their experiences and thoughts.
Empowering Latinos in Iowa is growing in size and influence under Thrane’s leadership. While the appeal of small scholarships helps bring students to the group, the opportunities to develop their skills through community organizing and social justice efforts keep the students coming back for more.
CLINIC applauds American Friends Service Committee’s commitment to immigrant integration and its creative methods to offer services. If you’d like to learn more about Empowering Latinos in Iowa contact Claudia Thrane at CThrane@afsc.org.
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Leya Speasmaker is Integration Program Manager in CLINIC’s Center for Citizenship and Immigrant Communities.