Name: Stacey Lopez
Location: Hartford, CT
Q. Can you tell us a little about your life path? What are you doing in your career and community right now and what lead you there?
A. I am the proud daughter of Colombian immigrants. First-generation, Latina who was raised in a mostly white, working-class, rural community of Kerhonkson, NY; later transplanted to Connecticut via scholarships for high-school and college; and now a resident of Hartford since 2006. Along the way, I have learned how to exist in communities that did not always embrace my Latinidad, the richness of my family, culture, language, strengths and personal experiences.
Growing up, as a low-income, student of color, I felt that like I truly didn’t belong in the classroom or in the communities I lived in. I rarely saw teachers and community leaders who looked like me and my family and mirrored my identities. When “my people” were mentioned it was mostly in statements that included phrases like, “at-risk” or “falling through the cracks.” At times, this made me feel like I was not (smart/good/hardworking/rich/American/Latina/pretty) enough. At different points, I became fed up with the low expectations and the deficit-based, social messages that students like me had internalized. With tons of support, I learned how to find my voice, find power in the discomfort of not fitting in, and leverage my resources and strengths. My educational journey lead me to a career path that is about building community, challenging the failures and barriers in our social structures and affirming the strengths in young people—who often feel like they don’t belong and are not enough.
As a Hartford resident for over 10 years, I have been committed to working with and supporting youth and families who experience barriers in accessing a good education, good health and overall, good quality of life. This work has afforded me the opportunity to work in non-traditional learning spaces/classrooms: shelters, community gardens, prisons, afterschool programs, bodegas/cornerstores, kitchen classrooms, living rooms, counseling centers and board rooms. Most recently I served as the Project Director for the Adventures in the City Freedom School summer program in the north end of Hartford and prior to that, as the Director of Youth Development at Billings Forge Community Works. Since 2011, I have mentored two amazing young women (shout out to Kaelyn and Nelly) who inspire and mentor me. I serve on the board of the Judy Dworin Performance Project—social justice, arts-based organization in Hartford. I have a bachelor’s degree in Educational Studies and a minor in Community Action Studies from Trinity College. I am currently a full-time graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in Social Work at the University of Saint Joseph.
Q. What does young women’s leadership mean to you?
A. To me, leadership, is a collective process that is deeply rooted in social justice. Social justice warriors like Gloria Anzaldua, bell hooks, Ella Baker and Paulo Freire have profoundly shaped the way I understand, practice and build leadership in my communities. Cultivating young women’s leadership means that I center the voices, lived realities, knowledge, skills and resilience of self-identified womyn/women, particularly those from oppressed groups, who often go unheard, unseen and unrecognized. It means that I recognize that we all have the capacity to lead in our communities and not always the opportunity to do so. Thus, young women’s leadership to me is about creating more equity for all young womyn/women—aka our future leaders! Spaces and relationships that affirm the strengths, skills and potential of women of color, of all ages and from all walks of life, energize me!
Q. Do you consider yourself a feminist? What does feminism mean to you?
A. ¡Feminista por vida! Feminist for life! Feminism means that I affirm the rights, leadership and power of womyn/women. As a feminist, I approach supporting more equity for womyn/women from a perspective of inter-sectionality so that we can understand and appreciate our complex identities and ways of being.
Q. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other young women, ages 18-35, about how to build their leadership skills or the importance of becoming a leader?
A. One piece of advice to young women: Love and own your story. Take the time to reflect, learn, question, examine, challenge and celebrate the rich histories, people, places and experiences that have and continue to shape you. What energizes you? What are your core values? How do you define success? Who are your people? These are questions that the mentors in my life ask/asked me in my life-long journey of loving and owning my story. It’s important to surround yourself with activities, spaces, people and opportunities that build you up; that support and celebrate you in the on-going actions of self-awareness and growth. Tap into the richness that exist in the good, bad and the ugly of your ever-evolving story. Own it. Tap into the womyn/woman you hope to grow into in order to overcome challenges, to accept discomfort, to be more compassionate and forgiving of yourself, and explore new experiences. Be inspired by her! And once you love and own your story, then hold this same powerful and affirming space for others.
In doing so, you learn important “leadership” skills and lessons: how to deeply listen and appreciate the life stories of others; compassion; humility; and how to identify someone’s passion and strengths. My mentors taught me that great, strong leaders spend most of their time listening, not speaking. They inspire through action and humility.
Young Women Rising celebrates one young woman each month by sharing their story here on our blog. If you know of a young woman between the ages of 18-35 that we should consider including please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.