Friday, May 26, 2017

Alejandro Vazquez Martinez: Out to Change the World

Alex Vazquez plans to take Northbrook High School Principal Randolph Adami’s job – or one like it – one day.

That wasn’t always the case. At one time, he wanted to be an architect. Then he met his eighth-grade Spanish teacher. Through her, he came to see that shaping education in Title 1 schools is the best way to change the world.

And that’s what he wants to do: change the world. “I don’t want other students to have the struggles I had,” he says.

Born in Mexico, Alex was brought to Houston at age 1. His family soon moved to Dallas; two younger brothers were born in America. The family returned to Houston when Alex was in sixth grade. He attended Spring Oaks and Northbrook Middle schools, then Northbrook High.

“My dad was deported three years ago because of domestic violence.” Unable to find work in Houston, his mother moved back to Dallas with the two younger boys. At 17, Alex was homeless.
“I stayed in Houston because of my strong connection with the people here, and I was part of the EMERGE program.” EMERGE is a nonprofit organization that empowers low-income, high-performing students to attend the nation’s top-tier schools. He could not pass up the possibilities it offered.

Homeless, with no family support and busy with AP classes, Alex accepted an offer to stay with a friend’s family. He was expected to pay rent and his own expenses, so he took a 20-hour-a-week job. Sometimes he was able to get rides to work; just as often he got there with a series of long walks and Metro rides.

“I got through it.” He says that very calmly, with a self-possessed composure that defies his age.

Asked about his grades during this stressful time, Alex seems reluctant to admit he’s one of Northbrook’s two valedictorians. “That was never my goal,” he explains, “I just tried my hardest every single day. My goal was to have a memorable experience with the people I love and to always help others.” And the people he loves? “My friends, and all the adults who supported me – teachers, administrators, counselors and mentors.”

Alex’ life dramatically changed during his senior year.  A mentor, Ericka Graham, invited him to live with her and her husband, Garett. “They have been a blessing. I’m kind of like their kid. It’s been a two-way learning experience because we come from such different backgrounds. They understand and encourage me.”

He was also accepted to Pomona College in Claremont, California, with a full ride, thanks to opportunities provided by EMERGE and its mentors. He’ll begin with Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies, but is excited to explore the school’s Sociology of Poverty program. He feels this will prepare him for changing the world.

Scott Glueck, Northbrook’s social worker, believes Alex might just do it. He’s won many academic awards, though you would never know it by talking with him. Nor would you learn he was the Raiders’ mascot and loved every minute of it. “He’s quiet, studious, thoughtful and spiritual. I once asked him if he’d considered becoming a priest. He cares deeply for his classmates and has an aptitude for social justice.”

To Alex, social justice is equity and opportunity for all people, regardless of race, income, gender or religion. Even if you’re undocumented.

He founded a group deliberately named United Successful Achievers or U.S.A., the only student-run organization at Northbrook. “I wanted to demonstrate the irony,” he says. “Even though many of us are not welcome in this country, we’re still being successful.” The group increases awareness of undocumented students’ needs, educates students about scholarships and financial aid, connects them to organizations that can help, and emphasizes community service.

His belief that all students are entitled to an education regardless of legal status got him published in the New York Times. Shortly before the last presidential election, the Times asked students what they would do if they were president. Alex’ answer was printed. (As president, he would expand DACA and DAPA programs, offering deportation relief for childhood arrivals and parents of Americans; and he would expand college financial aid in all 50 states.)

Alex is the first on his maternal family’s side to graduate high school and the first on his paternal family to attend a top-tier college.

“My parents can’t understand the magnitude of my accomplishments. They trust me that I’m making good decisions. They want me to be there for them, but I know if I get a degree and a profession, I can do more.”

EMERGE recently flew Alex to Claremont where he met plenty of other students whose circumstances are similar to his. Together, they will, no doubt, change the world.


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