NA For Change’s Inaugural Emerging Leadership Award Acceptance Speech

(Remarks as prepared for delivery.)

Good evening everyone.

It is a pleasure, privilege, and humble honor to accept this award on behalf of NA For Change, and especially for us to be the first of many recipients who demonstrate a beam of potential in transforming our Pittsburgh community for the better.

A very special thanks to the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, who dedicate themselves to the same common goal that guides much of our work: the empowerment of our communities. 

Additionally, what an honor it is for NA For Change to be mentioned even in the same sentence as Mr. Ghubril, Dr. Reynolds, and Mr. Ford, all changemakers whose character and drive we look to as examples.

NA For Change was born out of a necessity to address long-standing issues concerning race and identity for North Allegheny students. Since authoring a petition which garnered 2,000 signatures from the NA community and following up with a 26-page policy memo detailing how the district could improve the educational experience of marginalized students, we have seen how a message of positive change coupled with a pragmatic idealist mindset can light up an entire community in the flames of compassion.

Our voice is one of our most powerful assets, and we have worked for the past two and a half years to empower students in self-advocacy and strategic coalition-building. We have brought stories of racism out of the shadows and into the light. We have invested in our community through drives and through events that make a splash on our streets, like our annual Caravans for Change. We have identified areas of common ground and formed unlikely allies. And our reach has surpassed our expectations: we have held training sessions and learning circles with students in Georgia and Alaska!

Through it all, we have moved this agenda of change to the forefront of the district’s attention, scoring a number of policy victories in the boardroom, along with the creation of new outlets for the district to continue this work with student input. Problems persist, however, and so our fight continues. As it must.

And so in the midst of a long fight that is far from over, as we look back on what we’ve accomplished and forward to how much more we can do, we come to you today to humbly accept this award and speak to you all about how we see the landscape of emerging leaders. For this, I want to start by reading to you a single sentence from an essay that was written for our #IAmForChange campaign, which brings student voices directly to the school board room. The student wrote:

#IAmForChange because I am an optimist at heart, and I believe in the inherent good of people.

Young people have a lot to be cynical about in the world. The scourge of racism continues to blaze through our communities. Our generation has grown up in the shadow of 9/11, walked out of school and Marched for Our Lives after Parkland, and witnessed a knee pressed on the neck of George Floyd.

Yet through this, optimism stubbornly persists. As it must.

There’s a flame of hope in this generation that calls to our deepest desires as human beings to both love and be loved.

Through the tough realities that we face, we recognize that in addition to tangible policy and the work that we do, at the heart of change is a change of heart.

It’s a turn to radical empathy that can only be described as authentic love.

This empathy widens the circle of compassion and drives out complacency. It invites a broader vision that, when realized, will transform society.

This is our vision.

This is our goal.

This will be the legacy of a generation.

And we call on you to join us in realizing it.

It goes without saying that it takes a village to do transformative work, and we would not be here tonight without the support of our families and friends, along with our team, which has engaged in the work through thick and thin. Sam, Elise, Avery, Lamees, Ava, Vic, Lucia, Evan, Vibha, Coach Hinton, and all those I haven’t mentioned that have stood shoulder to shoulder with us: thank you. Your work does not go unnoticed, and your community salutes you.

Because of you and the people you serve to inspire, NA For Change’s chapter is only beginning to be written.

Folks, I leave you with this: it is my unwavering belief that this generation will leave its mark and inscribe in the pages of history a volume of a people with open hearts and open minds, yearning to be free of the stain of prejudice and hate.

Change awaits us; what is decisive is our deciding.

Thank you so much for this incredible honor and have a wonderful night.


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