Inspired by a social media post, a teenage girl from Pacific Grove asked her school to overhaul their literature curriculum. | Face to face


It turns out that TikTok can inspire social activism.

A year ago, now 17-year-old Pacific Grove high school student Marianna Zoellin saw an article from Diversify Our Narrative, a new California nonprofit founded by two Stanford students of Asian descent who wanted to modify school English programs to include writers of color. . The organization has grown in the state, where it has 200 chapters, and across the country, bringing the total to 800 chapters.

There are 6,000 organizers like Zoellin who resume a fight for racial justice in the education system after a few introductory sessions. The answer they get depends on their community.

Often their teachers and other staff are delighted and helpful, but sometimes parents voice their concern at school board meetings, insisting that things stay as they are, fearing that anti-racism education will lead to more. division and social hatred.

Zoellin is familiar with such remarks, and cannot understand how people cannot see the obvious. “Racism exists, it’s a fact,” she said.

Its chapter meets once a week with a dozen active members. The actual DON activity can take many forms, from preparing resolutions for school boards to vote on, to raising funds to buy new books – more African American classics by James Baldwin and Maya Angelou, but also young writers, such as Native American writer Tommy Orange or Dominican novelist Junot Díaz.

Zoellin plans to go to UC Berkeley to study political science. She said Berkeley students have strong beliefs and “get things done.” She is particularly interested in the exploration of political philosophy, international relations and gender. Its goal is to understand how the world works and how great concepts, like feminism, are born.

Weekly: When did you first feel affected by the issue of race?

Zoellin: I first noticed that people of color were not already represented in elementary school. I also knew there was no Disney Latina Princess and I really wanted to have blonde hair. You know, Cinderella is blonde and I thought being blonde is so good. Now I think it was sad.

I am Brazilian-American and I have a cousin, who is also of Brazilian descent, but she is lighter. I remember once we were told to choose a doll and I would choose the one with blonde hair. My family was like, “You are so weird.”

What role do books play in all of this?

My mother has a lot of books. I was a keen reader as a kid and I think that’s when people read most often. I was obsessed with the Harry potter series and Warriors – you know, the fantasy warrior cats series [laughter].

Yes, what you read stays with you and that is important. I really felt that minorities were not represented in what we usually read in school. I remember a book by a writer of color who was assigned to me in elementary school. [A novel about the Chinese-American experience, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.]

Tell us about your time at PG High.

We are so few [minorities]. I had already been involved in civic engagement and was looking for a new project. Once I heard about DON I was like wow this could definitely solve a lot of our issues.

Did it work?

The response has been really great, really positive. We worked with our teachers. We have a club at the school and weekly meetings that we organize even during the summer vacation. There is so much discussion. Jenna room [a teacher at Pacific Grove High School] is our advisor and sometimes we have the whole English department that presents itself. Many teachers are already reworking the curriculum themselves.

In March, we had the opportunity to present the DON goal and proposal to the Pacific Grove Unified School District Board, and we hope to come back with a resolution.

What are your influences these days?

There are a lot of people on TikTok that I love, exploring various topics such as feminism or LGTBQ issues. I am also very inspired by Professor Angela Davis of UC Santa Cruz. [Davis is an activist, philosopher, academic, scholar, Marxist and the founding member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. She wrote over 10 books on class, feminism, race and the U.S. prison system.]


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