When the Point Foundation, which offers college scholarships to promising LGBTQ+ students, set out to see what more it could be doing to address systemic racism, it couldn’t dispute that for students of color in the U.S., education is still a case of separate and unequal.
“When you look at systemic racism in education, the numbers are horrifying,” says Jorge Valencia (pictured), Point Foundation’s executive director and CEO.
Young people who Black, Indigenous, or otherwise people of color (BIPOC) often grow up in poverty and attend schools that don’t offer the advanced courses usually required for college admission. Many have to work to support themselves and their families, so if they pursue higher education, it’s frequently by taking courses part-time at a community college. So as the nation reckoned with systemic racism over the past year, the Point Foundation created the BIPOC LGBTQ Scholarship Fund, and now it’s announced its first class of scholars.
It wasn’t like the foundation ignored BIPOC youth before; far from it. Of the recipients of Point scholarships in 2020, 71 percent identified as BIPOC. “That’s a good number, one that we’re very proud of,” Valencia says. But the foundation wanted to broaden and deepen its commitment to this population.
Some of the requirements for Point’s flagship program, such as attending school full-time or maintaining a certain grade point average, made it hard for a proportion of BIPOC young people to qualify, he notes. So the BIPOC fund waives these requirements, offering more youth of color a chance to further their education.
The students in the first class of scholars are highly motivated, Valencia says. “Every one of them desires to get an education at all costs,” he says. He mentions, for instance, a young man who came to the U.S. from Kenya, where gay relationships are criminalized, with funds for one year of college. Since then, he’s been in and out of school while trying to earn enough money to finish his degree. He commented that the Point BIPOC scholarship gave him the chance to be a student for the first time in his life, Valencia says.
The new scholarships are made possible by support from DTS, Katy Perry, MacKenzie Scott, and Wells Fargo. With its current funding, the Point Foundation will be able to award another 20 to 25 scholarships under the BIPOC program; Valencia hopes to raise enough funds to double that.
Meet the first class of scholars on the next pages.
Pa’Shence grew up in Idabel, a small, conservative town in Oklahoma. Idabel is a community that does not embrace change or people that are different. Small-town politics and racism is the heart of Idabel. She is the oldest of two children and is the first in her family to receive a college degree. When she was younger, she suppressed a lot of her identities growing up in a white heterosexual space. When entering college, she became involved with the LGBTQ center on campus: Gender and Equality Center. This was the first time that she was in an accepting environment in an academic setting. She took notice of all the people that embraced all of their intersectionalities simultaneously. She went through college less guarded but still lacked understanding of her sexuality. She grew up in a heterosexual household that automatically assumed she was straight. This put pressure on Pa’Shence to carry out the idea of heterosexuality. She never dated anyone because she was so unsure of her identity and didn’t want to put anyone through that. In 2018, she encouraged herself to explore her sexuality and met her current partner. She came out to parents in 2020, and they embraced her and her partner with loving arms. Pa’Shence wants to work with LGBTQ young adults who are struggling with their identities and intersectionalities. She wants people to know that it is never too late to find their own happiness, and they never have to settle for it.
Tiana was born in Seattle and raised in a conservative household in the Houston suburb of Spring, Texas. She has two younger siblings and two older siblings. Growing up, Tiana was often surrounded by racism, sexism, and homophobia within and outside of her home. For years and years, she was ashamed to be who she was: an Asian-American bisexual woman. After struggling with her identity for years on end, everything changed when she set foot on the Lone Star Honors College campus. From there, her environment completely did a 180, as she was now surrounded by a diverse community that celebrated and embraced their differences. Tiana found confidence in her identity and her ability to achieve her goals again. She is currently involved in several student leadership positions, including the Honors College events coordinator, and she makes it her duty to create a loving, diverse, and inclusive environment for current and incoming students. She seeks to continue her education at the University of Texas, major in electrical engineering, and to continue advocating for the LGBTQ+ community and making sure her peers can find the same sense of pride that she found at the Honors College.
Willow spent her childhood and teen years in Spokane, Wash., as an only child. Willow’s family was mostly Christian, but she had a couple bisexual cousins around her age who gave her a sense of confidence in herself. She attended a Pride parade in Spokane and later on visited Oklahoma City during Pride Week. This support connected her to the community around her, despite the homophobia and gendered expectations from older family members.
Willow learned to draw before she learned to read. So, the connection between art and communication made sense to her at a young age. She especially enjoyed the storytelling method of comics. She was part of the Spokane Comicsmiths’ Guild in her hometown. After that, Willow attended the Institute of American Indian Arts for her BFA. She attended the first two Indigenous Comic Conventions in Albuquerque.
This sense of hope in humanity pushed Willow toward an interest in therapy and psychology. Willow’s dream is to get a MA in art therapy and counseling at Southwestern College to help guide and inspire others toward healthier choices and coping methods. There is value in seeing older LGBTQ+ and Native adults for possible patients, clients, and students in art therapy, especially when many never make it to old age.
Kia Session is a 2019 Cedar Hill High School alum. She is currently a 20-year-old sophomore from Cedar Hill, Texas, and an incoming transfer student from Mountain View College in Dallas. She grew up in a single-parent home with her older brother, Devin, who is now 23. She has a younger sister from her dad named Trenity who is now 15. The importance of God was always stressed in her household; therefore when she made the decision to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex, she told none of her family members and kept it a secret, while listening to her mom make homophobic remarks and even say that she “praises God” neither of her children are gay. Eventually, her sexuality become exposed against her will and that event sent her into counseling. Through counseling she has been able to walk in her truth and it has inspired her to not only become a teacher but eventually a counseling psychologist to be able to help others walk in their truth no matter what.
Danyal grew up in Houston with two brothers and a sister. Growing up in a South Asian Muslim household, he wasn't left with much room to explore his identity since being anything but "straight" was perceived as abnormal and dichotomous to being Muslim. In middle school, he decided to break social barriers imposed upon his sexuality and came out as gay. He was labeled as "different" at his home, in classrooms, and at religious gathering, and religious volunteer events. Upon entering high school with more autonomy and opportunities to take the initiative, he strived to combat the Muslim community's stigma associated with being LGBTQIA+. Danyal cofounded the Muslim Student Association at his school and competed at the Muslim Interscholastic Tournament, winning first place to exemplify that being different does not equate to being inferior or less competent. He continued volunteering at religious events such as raising funds for orphans in Muslim countries to illustrate that being LGBTQIA+ does not signify being distant from religion. With further exposure to societal issues, Danyal realized the prevalence of psychological disorders and the lack of attention toward them in the South Asian community, thus developing his interest in psychology and a passion for mental health awareness.
He is currently an aspiring psychiatrist majoring in psychology with a minor in biology and on the pre-medicine track. Danyal continues to be involved in the Muslim Student Association in college while researching code-switching and social chameleon-like tendencies in the LGBTQIA+ community to comprehend his own behavior and that of many others in order to combat similar social norms so they can find the normal in their "different."
Astro Pittman was born in Italy, raised in Texas, and has called Seattle home for over 13 years. Astro is completing their senior year at Seattle Central College in the applied behavioral Sscience baccalaureate program and has applied to the 2021 master of social work program at University of Washington. Astro works with at-risk LGBTQ+ youth as a drug and alcohol counselor, focusing on queer, homeless, and POC youth. Astro is the president of Seattle Central's LGBTQ+ student club, Queer Cooperative; a fully professed Guard with the Sisters of the Mother House of Washington (Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence); an award-winning journalist and editor in chief of Seattle Central’s newspaper, The Seattle Collegian; and the founder of Transgender Day of Remembrance Seattle, the Cis Ally Trio (Cissy), and SeattleTransVisibility.org.
Astro is also a regular guest panelist and speaker for various workshops and events spotlighting LGBTQ+ topics. Astro's mission is to blend these spheres of service and activism into a collective vehicle for social welfare, anti-oppression, equity, and justice in their communities. Developing research, training, and curriculum specifically tailored to the needs of the LGBTQ+ recovery community is their passion and calling, and they have especially focused on the specific needs and challenges of transgender individuals in their research. Their most closely held dream is to create and run a treatment and recovery center for Qqueer individuals from all walks of the rainbow where they receive targeted, trauma-informed, identity-affirming, and community-focused support from excellent clinicians who identify with their struggles through lived experience.
Peter is a proud community college student interested in the intersection of the environment, public policy, and health. His long-term goal is to become a public health and primary care physician to medically underserved communities, including the LGBTQ+ community.
He grew up in the Bay Area of California with traditional immigrant parents and was raised in Catholic schools and faith through the end of high school. During this entire chapter of his life, he knew nothing about the existence of the LGBTQ+ community. After surviving sexual assault from a priest and learning about the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down all bans on same-sex marriages in the United States, Peter realized that he is gay. Although initially ashamed, he gradually accepted and values this aspect of his identity, which has motivated him to pursue service to the LGBTQ+ community among other historically underserved and marginalized communities. He conducted a study examining the prevalence of ADHD prescription misuse among LGBTQ+ community college students and helped gather resources specifically for LGBTQ+ students when the pandemic first hit. He has been involved with LYRIC: Center for LGBTQQ Youth, where he is part of a community of queer youth leaders and continues to find ways to integrate LGBTQ+ voices and work into all of his other work because the LGBTQ+ community extends across all other identity distinctions: race, ethnicity, citizenship, class/socio-economic status, education, biological sex, specific interests, and more.
Peter has also been involved in the youth climate movement. He has fought for better bus services in his county to offset regional emissions, improve traffic congestion and air quality, and increase access to opportunities and resources for the roughly 2 million residents of Silicon Valley. He serves as co-lead of the San Jose Youth Climate Action Team, who helped organize the 2019 September Climate Strike and pass “reach codes” in San Jose, and mentors youths to be transformational climate leaders. In his free time, Peter enjoys learning languages and chatting with friends over boba.
Genesis Perez is a queer Chicanx poet from Oxnard, California. Perez came out as bisexual at 14 and genderfluid at 19. Having grown up in Catholic household Perez was afraid of what others might say. However, over the years Perez has found the strength to live life loudly and proudly. They have been published in Scuffed Diamonds, a collection of Ventura Poets and Through Me, You Will See, a collection of Oxnard High School District slam poets. Perez has also read and hosted at events by local queer artist collective Get Loud Movement. Their poetry explores Chicanx culture, the struggles and joys of being queer, and mental health awareness. In 2019, they became the second Youth Poet Laureate of Ventura County. As a Poet Laureate, they have been working with students to develop their performance skills and a love of the arts. Perez currently attends California State University, Northridge. They are the first person in their family to go to college right out of high school.
Teddy Onditi is a computer science major at California State University, Long Beach. Learning and manipulating software has become his life’s passion. Software and the force of the digital era have completely shifted the world. He intends to use his education to improve on that shift, focusing on disenfranchised communities. Growing up in Kisumu, Kenya, gave him a unique perspective on life. Most of his life in Kenya was focused on academic molding with very little exploration of individuality. After all, education in developing nations is conditioned to be the only key to success. Knowing he is different and contemplating how to navigate that is a common experience in the LGBTQ+ community. It is illegal to be gay in Kenya; one could be jailed and in extreme cases murdered. At the age of 19 he decided to move to America for school, his gut knew his time in Kenya was done, and in a beautiful way fate was leading him to self-love and acceptance. He found self in America and learned about his incredible community. He took part in the LGBT center’s UCLA Health Research program, aimed at sensitization of sexual and mental health. He aspires to be a champion for members of the LGBTQ+ community and espouse the notion of self-love and acceptance. It is his life’s goal to help debunk stigmas and misconceptions about the LGBTQ+ community and encourage coexistence.
Isio moved around a lot growing up. Born in Nigeria, they were shuffled firstly between states, then countries until they finally settled in Muscat, Oman, at age 11. All this moving around states and countries meant they had to reinvent themself with every new location; they never got the chance to really understand who they were outside of who they were expected to be. So it’s no surprise that when they realized they were queer in middle school their first instinct was to ignore it and hope it went away. It took a lot of time, but with support from online queer spaces, they were able to understand and embrace their queerness.
Isio is currently a student at the University of Texas at Austin, where they’ve grown a lot compared to that terrified middle-schooler. They’re out and proud as a nonbinary lesbian, and they do everything in their power to make life a little easier for LGBT youth of color who might be going through the same thing they went through. Currently, Isio is an officer in QTPOCA, a college organization that aims to make the transition to college easier for LGBTBIPOC. It gives incoming students a community of queer people of color they can rely on.
Kaylin is from Charleston, S.C. She is a junior at Marist College, studying computer science. She is a strong advocate for women and racial minorities interested in technology careers. Kaylin has been working with the Marist College Student Government Association and Department of Computer Science and Mathematics to charter a Marist chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. Outside of NSBE, she partners with the Newburgh Early College High School program to mentor high school students interested in computing.
Charlesia is a proud Black midwestern writer, teacher, and researcher born and raised throughout the Kansas City suburbs. She is an ambitious only child who was raised by an even more ambitious single mother. Charlesia is a first-generation college graduate from Kansas State University and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Kansas studying rhetoric and composition with a concentration on women, gender, and sexuality studies. She is broadly interested in fat studies, Black feminist rhetorics and literacies, the politics of pleasure, and queer theory. Her dissertation is a qualitative study that investigates Black women’s relationship to pleasure through the lens of literacy.
She is the graduate assistant for the Office of Undergraduate Fellowships at KU and within the Department of English she teaches Introductory Composition, Professional Communication, Introduction to Rhetoric and Composition, and a special topics course, “Disney, Identity, and Feminism.” In 2018, Charlesia received an Outstanding Instructor Award, and in the following year was awarded the Selden Lincoln Whitcomb Fellowship, which recognizes excellence in scholastic research and promise in the field of teaching. Existing at the intersection of Blackness, fatness, queerness, and womanhood meant that she never saw herself fully represented in her instructors nor in the texts she was assigned. Birthed from a desire to embody intersectional visibility for future students, she vowed to herself to pursue the professoriate and to always center multiply marginalized folks within her research and teaching career. She’s published in Composition Forum and the Journal of Critical Scholarship on Higher Education and Student Affairs, and throughout her graduate career, she has served as the administrative intern for the first- and second-year English program, co-president for the Student Association of Graduates in English at KU, co-president of Students of Color at KU, and a writing consultant at KU and Kansas State University.
Charlesia has known she is queer since elementary school, but growing up in a conservative Christian church made it difficult to understand and claim that identity until her late 20s. Finding queer family in graduate school helped Charlesia claim the fullness of her queer identity privately and publicly in 2020. Following her recent coming-out, she seeks to become more involved with queer initiatives on campus and to center queerness more within her teaching and research commitments.
Ari Luna is an Afro-Latinx woman born and raised in central Texas. At a very young age Ari knew that she was trans and also queer, which were challenging things to be in semi-rural Texas. After lots of challenges and hardships she graduated high school and moved to Austin for school. She holds a bachelor of social work from the University of Texas at Austin and has over five years of experience in nonprofit administration. Since settling in Austin she has been engaged with various movement spaces and autonomous projects focused on Black autonomy and liberation, anti-capitalism, and queer and trans struggle. By day she’s excited to support Trans Lifeline’s mission, vision, and staff as the HR director. By night she’s a comedian, hanging with friends, and/or eating some kind of delicious hot chip. Ari will attend Texas State University in San Marcos for a master of science in human resource management to gain greater insights into creating transformative workplaces for employees.
Jo Lew is a sophomore at Southern Methodist University studying political science, public policy, and human rights with a minor in history. They grew up as an only child to two immigrant parents in predominantly white Coppell, Texas. From an early age, Jo knew that they were different from what they had grown up seeing: They were not upper-middle-class, straight, cisgender, or white. They often felt “othered” within their community, and these early formative experiences pushed Jo toward activism for minority representation within their community. This interest led them to attend SMU in Dallas. SMU allowed Jo to pursue their interests in human rights through the Embrey Human Rights Program while also simultaneously studying Political Science and Public Policy. Jo is currently in their second term as SMU’s queer senator while also serving as the vice president of both the First Generation Association and the East Asian Student Association.
Sydney Latimer (Divinewords) is a queer interdisciplinary artist, writer, and activist from the Twin Cities in Minnesota. As a poet and visual artist, they have worked with The Last Poets, Ursula Rucker, Eyedea & Abilities, Brother Ali, The Guerilla Girls, and Barry McGee (Twist). Sydney was raised in a family that is supportive of LGBTQ+ people and came out as bisexual in their late teens; however, after receiving a negative reaction from their peers, they remained closeted until their late 20s. In 2020, they came out as a genderqueer femme. Sydney started their post-secondary education in 1999 but dropped out after freshman year. After a period of economic hardship during the late-2000s recession, they became a grocer for 12.5 years but longed to become a full-time artist and entrepreneur. After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Sydney bravely left their grocery job to pursue a degree in creative design business management. They have managed a course load of 19 credits per semester while maintaining a 3.84-4.0 GPA. Outside of Sydney’s extraordinary academic accomplishments, they are a former HuffPost contributor, a three-time marathon finisher, and Tough Mudder NoCal Finisher, and have been recognized several times over the years for their outstanding achievements in the arts and community activism for social justice and LGBTQ+ rights.
Khouri Lassiter is a rising senior at Towson University majoring in family and human services with a minor in applied adult disability studies. They currently serve on the Youth Resource cohort for Advocates for Youth, directly working on policies for LGBTQ+ youth. They are also interning with the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute working on the facilitation and recruitment of LGBTQ+ elected officials domestically and internationally. Prior to their position at Advocates for Youth and Victory Institute, they were the director of diversity and inclusion for their Student Government Association, directly writing inclusive policies for Towson’s marginalized students. Khouri has also been a fellow for the Poor People’s Campaign, directly leading issue-based campaigns for policy changes that support impoverished people. In her current position as an LGBTQ+ intern for the Center for Student Diversity, Khouri has written and passed legislation to get LGBTQ+ students, staff, and faculty accounted for in the data at her institution. A lot of Khouri’s work has been based on her personal experiences of being a Black queer nonbinary woman. She is a strong advocate for social justice, equity, and breaking institutionalized barriers within marginalized communities. After Khouri’s undergraduate career, she plans on obtaining her master’s degree in public policy with a concentration in social policy.
Eileen’s mother is Maria Cruz Jimenez, her grandmother is Eloisa Saavedra, and her great-grandmother is Isidora Saavedra, matriarchs of the Otomi people. She is an indigenous queer artist currently living in occupied Duwamish Territory (Seattle). Eileen was born in Southern California, but her family is from Michoacán and Mexico City.
As an Indigenous leader, community member, and artist, everything she does and creates is influenced by her many intersecting identities and lived experiences. She creates the art, the structures, the programming, and the educational experiences she wishes her community and she would have seen and had access to as a self-described "girl from the hood." Eileen’s leadership is grounded in community and specifically, she believes it is her role to continue to show up, disrupt the dominant narrative, and gain access to institutional resources to share them with her community. Her family’s stories, values, theories and practices keep her feeling whole throughout this process and she finds support through community care.
Currently, Eileen works at a community college supporting students to navigate higher education and trying to dismantle white supremacist and institutional racist policies and structures. She is currently in an Ed.D. in higher education program at the Muckleshoot Tribal College and the University of Washington, Tacoma. She loves reading and learning, and you will probably see the themes of decolonized education in her current body of artwork and programming at work.
Autumn is a Black, queer, and nonbinary creative who was raised in the suburbs of Sunrise, Fla., as the youngest of two siblings. By the age of 14, Autumn enrolled in Florida Atlantic University High School, an extremely competitive and rigorous program where students are fully dual-enrolled at Florida Atlantic University from 10th grade through 12th grade, taking college courses to fulfill high school requirements. At the age of 18, Autumn gained the courage to remove themselves from their physically and emotionally abusive household, escaping an upbringing deeply rooted within the views of a religious cult. This choice resulted in six months of homelessness, during which they continued to work during a pandemic and completed the remainder of high school with college credits. In the midst of living in unstable circumstances, Autumn managed to create a creative writing club which welcomed LGBT+/ BIPOC youth as well as countless online servers where BIPOC/LGBT+ youth could connect with others who share similar experiences and assist their peers in getting involved at local LGBT+ outreach centers.
Autumn is currently an active member of both the National Organization for Women and Generation Action. Within these organizations they work alongside like-minded change-makers to prioritize intersectional feminism and social issues surrounding equal rights, racism, gender, abortion, ability, economic justice, LGBTQ rights, and various other social issues. The contributions they have made to these groups include coordinating and organizing communal activities to mobilize advocates and broadening education past that of our privileged, heteronormative system. Autumn participated as a journalist for the Florida Atlantic University’s The University Press, adding to the much-needed conversations surrounding marginalized LGBT+ youth and bi/pan erasure. They wish to use their education as a stepping stone, utilizing all forms of art in combination with sociological concepts to facilitate equitable universal change. Autumn strives to have their work directly impact the lives of many and speak for those who lack the privilege to do so themselves by being the reaffirming, positive representation needed for the empowerment of other marginalized youth. Some of the diverse mediums Autumn chose to explore when advocating for social change are music production, poetry, and the visual arts. They believe that portraying their messages through such mediums can be highly impactful while still being digestible and have a mission of maintaining the accessibility of art to all audiences.
Rie is a doctoral candidate in the sociology program at the University of Massachusetts- Amherst and is receiving an advanced certificate in feminist studies. She received her bachelor's degree in sociology and minored in women’s studies and ethnic studies at Colorado State University. Rie’s research interests include race, gender, sexuality, queer studies, trans* studies, feminist studies, and sexual violence. Rie identifies as a queer woman of color with disabilities who upholds a nonconforming gender presentation, and these identities inform the work she does as a scholar and educator. Rie was involved in the Women and Gender Advocacy Center at Colorado State University during her undergraduate journey as a peer educator and volunteer student advocate for the 24/7 interpersonal violence hotline. After receiving her bachelor's degree, Rie worked as a victim advocate within the same center. In both roles she supported survivors of interpersonal violence (gender-based violence, domestic violence, stalking, and childhood sexual abuse) with their healing process. These roles allowed Rie to be a resource and support system for queer and trans* survivors on campus. In her current role as a graduate student, Rie hopes to obtain a doctoral degree in Sociology in order to become an educator and researcher. She hopes to use her role as an educator to support marginalized students in the classroom and her role as a researcher to give voice to queer and trans* experiences.
Originally from El Salvador, Kimberly grew up in northern Virginia. They went to an underfunded high school with a primarily Black and Latine student body, where she was a part of the international baccalaureate program. Due to some unlawful redistricting her senior year, Kimberly and her classmates rallied at school board meetings and town halls to ultimately obtain millions in funding for their school and a new speciality program. Through her involvement in organizations like Latin Link and Galipatia, Kimberly advocates for an inclusive STEM environment for underrepresented students of all backgrounds and abilities at Virginia Tech. In the future, Kimberly hopes to dedicate her career to developing sustainable practices for space exploration, while encouraging the inclusion of diverse voices in the aerospace field.
Chase was raised in Houston with three older brothers and a younger sister by a preacher and a worship leader. He attended church regularly and participated in ministry. In his first year of middle school, Chase realized that he was pansexual and began to struggle with self-love and acceptance. It had been ingrained in his mind that homosexuals were undeserving of love. The following years consisted of finding the balance between existing as a Black pansexual Christian man and the internal and external struggles that come with it. In high school, Chase founded the AfroClub and Queer NHECHS as safe spaces for Black and LGBTQIA+ students on campus. In this, he found that he was not alone in his struggle and began to embrace all aspects of his identity. He quickly became an outspoken and passionate advocate for marginalized communities on and off-campus.
In his freshman year at Wabash College, Chase has already begun to do the same. He joined the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies and 'shOUT to advocate for Black and LGBTQIA+ students who are underrepresented on-campus. He has taken on the role as a writer for the student-run college newspaper, The Bachelor, and secretary of the Student Senate Mental Health Concerns Special Committee. By doing so, he is able to bring attention to important issues such as mental health and various forms of bigotry. Going forward, Chase intends to major in political science with the goal of becoming a lawyer to pursue justice for communities that have historically been denied it.
Elizabeth was adopted as an infant in San Diego and moved to Anacortes, Wash., when she started sixth grade. She was diagnosed with a learning disability as a child, but with hard work and help from tutors and her family she has been able to overcome her disability.
After the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., Elizabeth helped form the Activist Student Union at her high school and organized a student walk-out and memorial for the victims. She was invited to speak at gun-violence protests and advocated for equal treatment of POC and LGBTQ+ students. She received the Student Volunteer-of-the-Year award from her school district for her community service activities. After racist incidents at Western Oregon University, she organized a March Against Hate and encouraged students to participate in the Salem Women’s March. She is very active in student government and clubs at WOU, previously serving as vice president of her dorm and vice president of residential housing, and currently as a senator for the Associated Students of WOU and vice president of the Black Student Union, and as a member of the Multicultural Club, Triangle Alliance, and the LGBTQ+ and POC affinity groups. Prior to the 2020 general election, Elizabeth participated in voter drives with Basic Rights Oregon (an LGBTQ+ rights organization).
Elizabeth plans to go to law school, then become a civil rights attorney, an advocate for sexual assault victims, or work for an agency that fights employment and housing discrimination.
Emmanuel is from the Washington, D.C., area currently attending Bowie State University, a historically Black university located in Prince George’s County, Md. He is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in business information systems. Emmanuel is a first-generation college student whose career goals involve business intelligence and data analytics. Emmanuel is currently involved in leadership and community development projects engaging members of the LGBTQIA community in broader human services, providing education and training around accessing social services and behavioral health initiatives. Emmanuel is focused on working with organizations to provide resources and opportunities to marginalized communities in the D.C. area.
Gabriel Rasheed immigrated to the U.S. in 2015 and became a citizen. Originally, he is from Sudan, a sub-Saharan African country that has suffered armed conflicts and civil wars since its independence. These wars took the lives of nearly 2.5 million people. He is from a working-class family; his father passed away after battling prostate cancer, leaving them in a complicated situation. He is the second in a family of five siblings, two boys and two girls. His mother was a factory worker before retiring only one year after the death of his father, and they all had to work and study just to make a living.
Middle school was a complicated time for Gabriel because he realized that he was gay and immediately felt ashamed of his identity. Being gay increased his stress and impacted his behavior. Homosexuality is taboo in Africa. In his country the penalty for being gay is death, so that why he kept it secret and he felt isolated and different. Furthermore, corporal punishment is a systematic approach in his home country. He cannot remember how many times he was beaten, insulted, hit with an object, or forced to stand in the hot sun for a long time. Immigrating to the U.S. was a dream that came true for him. He considers himself one of the luckiest people on Earth because he won the DV-Lottery visa, a program established by the U.S. State Department. His life has changed since the moment his plane arrived at John Fitzgerald Kennedy Airport.
Gabriel lived in Philadelphia before he moved to Texas. He faced many problems in the first months, like language, using technology, culture shock, and people having different values and new ways of doing things that seemed strange to him. He worked hard and more hours to get enough money to help his family in Africa, but he had less time to study and to enjoy his life. Although he did not have enough time, he started studying at Austin Community College. Studying in an American school is a new experience for him, and with new experiences come new challenges.