Scoring tickets and the ‘opportunity to fail’: SLI scholar Flory, aspiring changemaker
RICHMOND, VIRGINIA, FALL 2019 – Today, it’d be different. But then, back in November 2019, the Richmond Times-Dispatch headline quoted her as saying, “I didn’t know that I could make a difference.”
Because now Flory knows she can.
A Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) scholar and the senior class president at Huguenot High School in Richmond, Flory had written a letter to the Richmond mayor and schools superintendent and the Virginia secretary of education honoring her AP government teacher, a “personal mentor.”
She had also included in the letter a request for tickets to see the musical “Hamilton” – but she never expected that 118 tickets would be donated to her class and teacher and “dozens of other Richmond students and teachers,” the article said.
“I can change things,” Flory now says. “I can make a difference.”
FROM ‘BORING’ TO ‘THE DREAM’
The “Hamilton” tickets experience has only strengthened Flory’s resolve to be a changemaker. She had already discovered her interest in political science, which she said began with SLI assignments. A nonprofit that creates college opportunities for Latino high school students, SLI offers its scholars rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, supportive mentorships and scholarship awards.
Flory used to think that learning about other countries and history was “so boring,” she said – but in SLI she began learning at a new level about such topics as the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case or the systematic suppression of indigenous Central American cultures.
“I want to be very involved with the community,” she said. “That’s something that can impact a lot of people. I can start locally, and then – the dream would be to one day help in policymaking or the US government, and change systems.”
She has already begun, serving on the superintendent’s student advisory committee, where she learned that “you can complain all day long, but if you can’t find a solution or an alternative way to solve it, then you’re basically complaining for no reason,” she said.
‘WE HAVE TO GO’
SLI “feels like a family,” Flory said, a supportive place with other college-minded Latino students. But SLI has impacted her family of origin, too.
Flory was born in North Carolina and raised in Virginia. Her parents, from Mexico and Guatemala, have worked in housekeeping, restaurants and sock and poultry factories; her dad now pastors and works in construction. Neither holds a college degree, although before immigrating her dad had begun medical training.
They are faithful attenders of Saturday SLI, when guest speakers educate scholars’ families about accessing college: The FAFSA application, for example, or the difference between public and private colleges – “things that I wouldn’t know how to explain to my parents or wouldn’t even know,” Flory said.
That programming has led them to be “more involved with my academics,” she said. “When it’s a Saturday SLI, they’re like, ‘Okay, we have to go.’ It’s not ‘Do we have time to go?’”
‘THE OPPORTUNITY TO FAIL’
SLI has given Flory a “perspective of what college is going to be like,” she said, thanks to the college-level reading and writing projects assigned by SLI founder and director Peter Iver Kaufman, a professor of leadership studies at the University of Richmond.
“Sometimes when we write papers for Dr. Kaufman, our papers come back scratched up with so many comments and notes, and we have to check this, and grammar check that,” she said. “I get the opportunity to fail, and I get the opportunity to learn and grow from that, rather than going to college fresh off the boat, getting out of high school and hitting reality.”
The hard work has immediate payoffs, too.
“I apply the skills I learned with SLI to my school here,” she said. “Before SLI, if I had to write a one-page essay I would think that was the worst thing ever. And then I came to SLI and we have to write seven-to-ten-page essays, and we have to learn how to articulate a thought and make sure we have evidence to back it up. So now when I get school work, it’s easier, because I’ve gotten practice from SLI.”
While getting to see “Hamilton” was “a dream come true,” Flory said, what most excited her about the whole experience was having helped 117 others see it, too.
“All of this was done with the power of advocating,” she said. “It shows me that I have potential.”