Education and My Experiences

Currently in my fourth year at Walla Walla University, I’m truly proud of myself for making it this far. Growing up, my family and I lived off social security, food stamps, and section eight housing. So, the fact that I’m going to college to have a career to provide for myself is truly a dream.

Esther

I’m the youngest out of four siblings. However, I only grew up around two of my siblings. Among my siblings, I am the first to go to college. Me and my two sibling who I grew up with were raised by a single mother who started, but never finished college. Throughout my college experience, I’ve felt the pressure to complete my degree since my mother didn’t, and there have been various times when the pressure to do well academically has been very stressful. I constantly deal with self-doubt about whether or not I’ll get my four-year degree, but when I apply myself every day, I prove to myself that I can do it.

Most students who attend college have a stable support system to turn to when they need guidance, but for me that’s been a challenge. My mother died of cancer almost seven years ago and she was my everything. Not having her to turn to during this very important transitional and pivotal time in my life is isolating, devastating, and makes me angry to say the least. Now living in the Walla Walla area, I have made connections with people that I can see being in my life for a long time, even after I complete my degree. That includes faculty from the university, friends I’ve made here, as well as people I see as mentors in my life. I’m studying strategic communication at Walla Walla University and I finally know what I want to do as a career. It took three years of college to have peace in knowing that I chose the right major and that I could have a career in something that I’m passionate about.

My long-term goal is to use my degree to change the foster care system from the inside out. Having personally been in the system more than once, I feel strongly about completing college because many youth who exit the system don’t graduate from college with a four-year degree. I want to use my experiences in foster care and in college to be an example for youth who’re currently in foster care, so they know that they have a purpose and that they’re more than their stories. Also, in using my degree, I want to give youth who are in foster care and who’ve aged out of the system the platform to tell their stories any way they want to—the good and the bad.

I believe in the power of owning your story and not allowing society to dictate how you tell it or express it. I’ve proven to myself, time and time again, that I’m resilient, I’ve accomplished and will continue to accomplish great things. I know I will get my four-year degree.

 

Youth-Led Activism in Walla Walla

The year 2020 has been a year of events that are unexplainable and out of this world. COVID-19 has forced the world to reshape how we go about our everyday lives and how we interact with one another. Being a college student, my spring quarter was online due to COVID-19. Then, George Floyd’s murder took place and has left the black community and people around the world at a loss for words and experiencing various heart aches. If you asked me to describe 2020 in three words, I would say “To be continued…”

Esther Taylor

Being a person of color, dealing with the killing of George Floyd and the many other black lives that have been lost this year and in the past, I feel I have a responsibility to speak up about racial injustice and systemic racism. I’ve been living in the Walla Walla area for almost a year and I’ve noticed that there is a lack of black people that live here. Even though there are not a lot of black people living in Walla Walla, the ones that do live here matter and our voices deserve to be heard and listened to. I want mine and other people of colors’ voices to be heard and taken seriously, not just during this time when it feels like the world has stopped, but continuously throughout life. There’s so much work to be done for the black community in making racial equality a reality for people of color.

Before the killing of George Floyd, I was not speaking up about racial injustice, nor was I staying in the loop about racial injustice. Even now, I still feel I need to pay more attention to all that’s going on in the world when it comes to racism, amongst other things. By trying to be more educated on the topic of racism, I’m able to have more in-depth conversations with people when the topic comes up in a conversation. To not acknowledge that there is racism is a serious problem and something that needs to be addressed head on.

I’ve gone downtown Walla Walla to protest for myself and the black community more than once this summer. The experiences I’ve had protesting in Walla Walla have been generally positive, but I have had a couple of experiences with naysayers as well. I wish that people who don’t have to experience racism could be open-minded, compassionate, and understanding to people of color who do have to deal with it. I want them to lend their voices in helping support the Black Lives Matter movement. This year has shown me that now more than ever it is important to come together in solidarity, supporting one another in changing systemic racism, and speaking up for people who can’t or are afraid to.

With police brutality having a strong intersection with racism and homelessness, it’s important to examine why, change societal stigmas around people of color and homelessness, and be a voice for people who identify with these experiences. People of color are hounded by the police time and time again due to the color of their skin and it isn’t right. People of color deserve to have equal opportunities like anyone else to live in America feeling safe, secure, and loved. The same principle goes for anyone who has experienced or is experiencing homelessness. Whether living on the streets, sleeping in your car, or couch surfing, being homeless is not fun nor should it be something society continuously overlooks and stigmatizes. In reality, people who have experienced or are homeless deserve so much credit for persevering and overcoming a very hard obstacle and circumstance in their lives.

As a Walla Walla community, each and every one of us has a voice that can be used to end racism, police brutality, and homelessness. It is important to address the unfair treatment of communities that are viewed a certain way, and to help make long-lasting change for these communities and the younger generation coming after them.