My name is Christina Guajardo Arnold. From an early age, I was taught the importance of family, education and community by my grandparents, Daniel and Lupe Vargas. They were the hands and hearts that truly served our community and people for good. Advocates of social justice and change- my grandparents fought for migrant worker rights and living conditions. They were supporters of education – champions for all students. They were community leaders, who created connections for our Latino community to succeed. My grandparents were role models of change and leaders of acceptance.
I was born one of seven children, raised by a single mom in a family that didn’t exactly fit the mold of the Grand Rapids Public Schools of the past. Living in a predominately Caucasian section of Grand Rapids, we were the only Mexican American family in our neighborhood and one of only two families in our school.
As my brothers and sisters and I grew up, we began to see the community change. Those who were the minority became the majority, and diversity flourished within our city. When I entered Ottawa Hills High School, I became part of something bigger, more proud of who I was and where I came from.
My commitment to education, equity and community was passed onto me by my grandparents, first as a student at GRPS and then into my career as the Founding Director of the Bob and Aleicia Woodrick Center for Equity and Inclusion at Grand Rapids Community College. My story and commitment to GRPS has continued both as a proud parent of a GRPS Alumna and as a board member of the Student Advancement Foundation.
My daughter, Allison never really felt like she fit into the preconceived ideas her private school subscribed to. Having attended a private school through 8th grade, she longed for an environment where she could be free to express herself and at the same time be surrounded by students of different backgrounds and of diverse thought and opinion. Allison transferred to Grand Rapids City High beginning her freshman year.
Like many youth today, Allison struggled. Her father and I watched as our beloved daughter was diagnosed and hospitalized with anorexia, anxiety and depression. We felt helpless, our hearts broke for her pain. But a glimmer of light and hope broke free – music, reading, and writing became her sole source of expression and healing. The teachers and counselors at City cultivated her creativity – they encouraged her to create, they inspired her expression and they buoyed her healing. They allowed her to be her. My Allison.
I often play in my head the many different scenarios and outcomes of that time. I know in my heart, that without the consistent support of the family of counselors, teachers and friends at City, my daughter’s life could be very different. Perhaps she wouldn’t have gone on to graduate as valedictorian from City in 2013. Perhaps she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be a Wolverine at the University of Michigan and perhaps her father and I wouldn’t get the privilege to witness her graduating from U of M this Friday.
My daughter is very fortunate. She was surrounded by individuals who truly cared for her well-being. Sadly, not all of youth are afforded the same opportunities, guidance, or freedom to express and discover themselves through their creativity.
Today, I see her light of strength, passion and kindness shine and know, without a doubt, her public education through GRPS has made a significant impact on her life, and on the lives around her. She has grown into a vibrant, creative young woman, because teachers, counselors and friends united together and gave her the strength to overcome. I couldn’t be prouder of who she is and what she has become.
I wanted to share my story, and my daughter’s story to show our community the power we have when we unite. As an advocate for our students, I know our community is a powerful link in ensuring our students are given every opportunity to succeed regardless of the circumstances they are in. We must unite together, for our kids, our students.
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