• By Celina Moreno, J.D. • IDRA Newsletter • November-December 2023 •

Listen to audio version: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – Classnotes Podcast 239

Celina MorenoEditor’s Note: The following is the text of remarks by IDRA President & CEO Celina Moreno, J.D., at IDRA’s 50th Anniversary Gala.

Thank you for celebrating with us tonight as we honor the bold legacy of Dr. José Cárdenas. I think about what it must have been like to take such a leap of faith to leave his superintendent position and start an organization from scratch. Such courage! 50 years later, our team is still driven by his vision.

We believe deeply that all young people have the right to graduate from high-quality public schools that are equitable and well-funded and that prepare every single young person to access and succeed in college – without being forced to abandon their language, gender or cultural identities in order to thrive.

We also envision a reality where bilingualism is not just accessible for middle-class students but as a civil right for all students learning English. That’s why, over the last few years, we trained 3,000 bilingual teachers in the U.S. South and crafted laws to improve their education.

We envision a reality where immigrant students are celebrated not just for what they can add to our economy but for what they mean to our communities. That’s why – whether in the Fifth Circuit this year or in the Texas Legislature session after session – IDRA will never stop fighting against attacks on the Texas Dream Act.

We envision a reality where students are not gaslit by classroom censorship policies that seek to prohibit discussions and ban books about race, gender and sexuality. That’s why IDRA has led advocacy coalitions in Texas and Georgia to fight these policies, launched a resource hub for teachers, and worked with partners to file federal complaints to challenge anti-LGBTQ+ school district policies.

We envision a reality where all students feel safe and welcomed in their schools. That’s why Congress has invited IDRA to testify on the harmful impact of exclusionary school discipline and over-policing that is especially harmful to Black students.

We envision a reality in which students go to school free from racial bullying. That’s why IDRA engages in “movement lawyering” and teamed up with courageous Black students and their families to hold community forums, co-write legislation and file federal complaints. We are proud the Office for Civil Rights is actively investigating those complaints in Slaton and Lubbock Cooper ISDs.

50 years later, we remain committed to building community power.

We envision state capitols where policy advocates have deep roots in our communities. That’s why, through the IDRA Education Policy Fellows Program – now in its fourth round – we are changing the face of advocacy in Texas and Georgia.

We envision a reality where our communities drive policy change. That’s why IDRA leads state and regional policy coalitions like the Texas Legislative Education Equity Coalition, the Georgia Coalition for Education Justice, and the Southern Education Equity Network. We have united students, educators, and business leaders and equipped them with actionable data to successfully oppose efforts to privatize our public schools.

We envision a reality in which parents are true partners in their children’s education. When Texas diluted its high school curriculum, ARISE – the co-creators of IDRA’s Education CAFE™ model – demanded better for their children. They collected survey data across the colonias in the Rio Grande Valley and, with IDRA support, used that data to convince 10 school districts to adopt a more advanced graduation plan. Those mamas are powerful – and they know it.

We also envision a reality in which young people are treated as partners in their own education. That’s why we created IDRA’s Youth Advisory Board, convened a national youth summit, and supported student researchers studying the impacts of the pandemic and inequities in access to ethnic studies courses here in San Antonio.

We envision a reality in which young people have a say in the decisions of today that impact their future. That’s why IDRA leads the Alamo STEM Ecosystem to elevate the voices of girls and students of color in science on key issues like climate change. That’s why we serve our VisionCoders eighth graders, 90% of whom are students of color. And it’s why we continue our youth mentoring and dropout prevention programs like Valued Youth Partnership and Youth Leadership Now to ensure all students, especially those considered “at risk,” are prepared for college.

We are in a critical moment for K-12 public schools and higher education. We see what I call the “Texas Three-Step” happening across the country: public schools and universities are being defunded, demonized and privatized. We are living in a time when so much of the progress that has been made over the past 50 years is at risk. This is not theoretical. We’ve seen the Supreme Court continue to overturn 45 and 50 years of settled precedent. There is a well-funded and well-coordinated effort to undermine public schools and undo gains made in college diversity. This is not the first time our communities have faced adversity or powerful interests. Nor will it be the last.

But here’s the problem with their plan. They don’t know on whose shoulders we stand.

We stand on the shoulders of giants and geniuses, of fighters and farmworkers.

We stand on the shoulders of the young people and families and community organizers and teachers and lawyers who led walkouts and fought their way to the U.S. Supreme Court rather than settle for substandard schools.

And, because they don’t know, they underestimate our commitment to continue to fight and stand together to protect Dr. Cárdenas’ legacy and the bright future of students across this nation.

We will always choose to have hope in young people and in ourselves and to build people power. Estoy asegurada que juntos, Si venceremos. 

Celina Moreno, J.D., is President & CEO of IDRA. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at contact@idra.org.

[©2023, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November-December 2023 edition of the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]