My name is Isabelle Melendez, and I am currently a third year at the University of Denver, and a senior lead organizer at the Colorado Coalition.
On move-in day my first year, I was so excited to start the part of my life that I had been anticipating since I was little. Yet, when I got on campus I began to be discouraged by the swarm of Range Rovers and Patagonia jackets, while I was wearing a full Ross fit, and my 1989 Honda CRX had just broken down. In my Freshman Seminar, I was the only girl and one of only two students of color. In class, I was discouraged by my Business Calc teacher telling me that “the material is a review, and you should have learned this in high school”, when I barely got to pre-calc. As far as I could see there wasn’t anyone that looked like me or could relate to my experiences. My excitement for school had run out and didn't feel like I was meant to belong at DU.
I then heard about a free trip to Boston from my line sisters. I didn't know anything about the organization or what we would be doing, but I knew I needed to get away and just enjoy my spring break with my friends. So I went and saw a diverse room of college students from across the nation, all united in the fight for education justice. I was inspired, starstruck, and most of all excited, to know that there were students who looked like me, shared many of my same experiences, and were all down for the same cause. After my week with Our Turn I knew that I needed to get involved, and now, three years later, we are close to winning our mental health campaign. After countless training and meetings, my coalition is finally going to be able to see our own written policies implemented for vulnerable students in DPS schools who deserve access to and quality mental health support as part of their education.
Our Turn opened my eyes and mind to the structural injustices that had me struggling while my white counterparts were flourishing, while giving me the tools to be a powerful and effective organizer. I have been able to meet elected officials on the local and state level, share my story on a local and national level, and make lifelong connections. It’s Our Turn to change what the educational experience feels like for first generation students of color who will go to college and be faced with the same injustices that many of us here have overcome. Although my time with Our Turn as a lead organizer is coming to an end and I see graduation nearing, I will never cease to pass down organizing skills that inspire the next generation of young leaders.