Giving Compass' Take:

• Emily Cubilete explains how history lessons inspired her to rise above the bleak future painted by a field trip to jail. 

• How can funders work to develop curricula the encourages students - particularly students of color - to strive and succeed? 

• Learn why California is increasing LGBTQ representation in history

In sixth grade, I went on a field trip to jail. Picture us: a bunch of Latino and African American kids sitting in a prison cell. I’ve never been able to shake the memory.

Why do people threaten black and Latino kids with prison and isolation from their peers? Although data show these students are much more likely than their white counterparts to do hard time, desperate measures like threats and punishment are not the way forward. Education is. Teaching students about their heritage, and about other groups’ heritage, allows students to break free of stereotypes and appreciate their challenges and triumphs.

I’ve felt my whole life that the world has tried to brand an identity onto me. I grew up believing that, because I was female, because I was Latina, my voice was never meant to be heard. The courage of these survivors made me realize that not using your voice is a choice, no matter what you’ve been through, and it’s usually the wrong one.

After I learned about the Holocaust, my mother told me about the Trujillo Massacre in the Dominican Republic in 1937, which first brought our ancestors to the United States. Dark-skinned people were killed, she said, and the women were raped. The only option was to flee. I learned then that racially motivated hate was also a part of my family’s story.

Now, the things my school was teaching me started to mean something very different. The history we were learning about was my history, too.
But I also learned about fighting back. During the massacre, my aunt Felicia was determined to keep people safe. She brought both her family and complete strangers with her to America. She was an “upstander” — someone who used his or her voice to stand up for others.

I went on to attend Kean University, becoming the first female student body president in the school’s history. I helped manage a $500,000 budget and represented 60,000 voices. Today, I’m in my first year at John Jay College of Criminal Justice pursuing a master’s degree in public administration along with a law degree. My goal is to work with the FBI’s civil rights unit to stop hate crimes.

Reflecting back on that sixth-grade field trip, I see that I am more than the jail cell or brand that others sought to categorize me as. Becoming an upstander has allowed me to break free from those confines and define myself.

Read the full article about teaching history by Emily Cubilete at The Hechinger Report.