We are very humbled that the Chinese Immigrant Student Leadership (ChISL) program is being honored as a “Champion of Change” by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. ChISL is in its pilot year and is a partnership program between Charlestown High School in Boston, MA and the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, a non-profit community-based organization. The “My Voice – Their Stories” video features ChISL youth that shared their experiences transitioning to life in the United States.
In fact, the idea for ChISL first started with the observation that there were very few opportunities for immigrant youth to have a voice of their own and share such experiences. The Chinese immigrant youth in ChISL are all enrolled in the Sheltered English Instruction (SEI) program at Charlestown and everyday they work hard at school to learn and master (academic) English, while struggling equally hard outside of school to navigate a completely new country and adapt to a new culture. All too often, they have little to no opportunities to challenge themselves beyond such daily struggles to develop their inner leadership skills or to think about how they can be part of creating positive social change. ChISL brings these future youth leaders together and gives the youth a safe space to not only talk about these struggles, but to consider how they can contribute to the community and advocate on behalf of others facing the same sort of struggles.
The ChISL program is also powerful because it gives the students an opportunity to explicitly discuss and examine topics that they may otherwise not have pondered. This year, we have discussed how they feel when they are stereotyped by others -- and pushed them to also think of times when they may have themselves discriminated against others based on similarly groundless stereotypes. The youth also examined the precarious balance between rights, voice, and space and how they all affect communities that are overlooked, voiceless or lack access to opportunities. Most recently, they have been learning about the issues around bullying and how they can be allies instead of just bystanders. As we shared how hurtful seemingly innocuous comments could be, as well as how inspiring small actions of friendships could be, the students finally realized that as leaders and as advocates they have the power to create ripples of positive change in their school community.
In the end, the greatest impact ChISL has had this year has been that it has empowered the youth to have a better understanding and appreciation of how much they can contribute to the community. We truly believe that both for their remaining years at Charlestown and for the rest of their lives, ChISL has laid the foundation for these students to continue to be “Champions of Change.” As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, “Although social change cannot happen overnight, we must always work as though it were a possibility in the morning.” ChISL is the first step for these students to realize that possibility.
Chu Huang is the Youth Program Associate at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, and Chikae Yamauchi is a math teacher at Charlestown High School. Together, they work with the Chinese Immigrant Leadership Program (ChISL), a pilot leadership program for Chinese immigrant students in the Chinese Sheltered English Instruction Program at Charlestown High School in Boston, MA.
Check out Chu's "What's Your Story" video submission: