By Chris Raymond
It was, without a doubt, the Best Christmas Present EVER!
This past Christmas I offered Good Gift Bucks from InspiredtoGive.org to all my nieces and nephews. Each one had $50 to donate to a favorite charity, an important cause that they felt strongly about. The parents were in on it too, and there were lots of conversations over the holidays as to how the money was to be spent.
I would have said that those discussions, hearing about the issues the kids feel so deeply about and the people they want to help, were the best presents for me!…until a few weeks ago.
One of my nieces is Sadie Strelow, a high school freshman at Nerinx Hall Catholic High School in St. Louis. Sadie had a tough time choosing between the many environmental issues that trouble her. And then I told her about Luis Mora, 20 years old and a political science student at UC Berkeley.
Luis is a Dreamer. He came to the US as a kid with his mom on a tourist visa. He became an illegal immigrant when they stayed past the expiration date. He didn’t know this – his mom didn’t tell him. He just started school with his cousins who are citizens. (See the full story here.) Luis worked hard and did very well at the local community college – so well that he was accepted into UC Berkeley, one of the top public universities in the country. His plan? Become a lawyer and maybe a diplomat. All he saw was opportunity!
But one night over Christmas vacation, Luis and his girlfriend were driving home in San Diego and took a wrong turn in the dark. They came upon US Border Patrol, 30 miles north of the Mexican border. Undocumented, Luis was arrested immediately and placed in the detention center.
The UC Berkeley legal aid organization went to work to gain his release. A fund for his bond was established. By the time I told Sadie, Luis had been in detention for two weeks already. Pretty quickly she decided – she wanted her Good Gift Bucks to go to Luis’ bond fund.
Recently I chatted with Sadie about Luis’ situation.
Why did this particular cause become so important to you?
There were so many charities I wanted to support. But Luis’ situation struck close to home. He’s a kid – just a few years older! It struck me how unfair it was, and it made me angry. I could not imagine being torn away from a country and family that you know and love. This could be a kid in my class! At first I felt powerless and voiceless. But then the idea that I could actually help someone in a personal way by donating to his fund – it is amazing.
What made you feel so much empathy for Luis?
He is living my dream! He got into Berkeley by working hard, that is what I hope to do…he shows that by working hard you can. We have talked about Dreamers in school, and I know that I haven’t experienced what Luis has – I have a privileged background. But that means I have to figure out what I can do to help. First, I can try to walk in their shoes. With that better perception, I think I can do something.
Several days after Sadie contributed to Luis’ fund, he was released on bond and happily returned to his friends and classes at Berkeley. He said he wanted to help people he met that are still being detained. “I’m excited to continue my education and show everybody what Dreamers are made of in this country.”
Sadie, how did you feel when you learned Luis was released?
It felt so good to be effective! I can protest, but is it enough? Yes, protesting draws attention and opens eyes, but can I save a kid with one tweet? When I donated to help Luis, I actually felt like I did something…to keep a student in his own country.
What do you hope for Luis and other Dreamers like him?
I wish I could press a button and have everyone feel welcome here again. To all the people being torn from their families, I wish them safety wherever they have to go… I hope that they feel safe and loved and comforted. I hope only good can come from that.
Here’s what Sadie has learned so far, maybe it can help you:
One of the important philosophies in my school is, “Diversity Enriches, Trust Empowers.” When you are being called to an action, you have to do it. Stand up for what you believe in. Speak your truth because it matters, but also respect other views. At the same time, don’t be afraid of backlash! I used to be afraid to speak out, but then I realized, is that going to matter? Be unapologetic about your truth!
Here is my goal: Help each other but don’t bash down other people in the process. Cultivate kindness.
Seeing Sadie’s enthusiasm and joy from making a difference was truly my Best Christmas Present Ever!
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