If we don’t tell our stories, who will?

Last month, in the midst of so many unexpected things happening in Boston, I unexpectedly found myself turning my story as a first-generation student into a poem. It was at Class Action’s first summit where students discussed issues of low-income, working class and first generation students.

I had the honor to work with Adj Marshall, Class Action’s First Generation College Student Program Coordinator to plan Class Action’s first summit. All day, there seemed to be a trending topic: storytelling. From our keynote, Dr. Jane Van Galen, to the ‘Telling Our Group’s Story Workshop’ led by Lauren and Lily (colleagues of Adj), the summit stressed the importance for us to tell our stories, and showed us how we could document them in many ways. Why, if we don’t tell our stories, who will?

I heard stories from our own Class Action bloggers and from people that Dr. Van Galen worked with to make mixed media to tell their stories. Lauren and Lily shared with us the “Where I am From” poem by George Ella Leon, and they actually had us do an exercise where students could share a bit of their story. I was inspired to do something similar, so this is “Where I am From” by Ahalia Persaud about being a first-generation college student:

I am from the photos on the refrigerator,
cardboard caps and polyester gowns.
I am from the home where no one has received a degree, not even me, but the thought of almost being there.
I am from the bamboo tree,
that stands so tall, which reminds me of myself –
Turning heads and breaking hearts.

I am from school and home,
from Mom and Dad who were my first teachers.
I’m from do your homework
and then you can play.
I’m from education is key
and everything else comes after.

I’m from superstitious beliefs,
like fruits and vegetables of knowledge (that I don’t really eat, but I’m smart anyway).
From the grandparents who weren’t able to send their children to school,
the parents who gave my siblings and I the opportunity to do so.

In the closet is a plastic container
filled with certificates,
report cards of A’s & B’s
that foreshadowed my parents’ dreams.
I am from the family who made me a first-generation college student with my sister and brother who will continue the legacy.


Ahalia Persaud is a student at Simmons College and an intern at Class Action.

5 Responses

  1. Jane

    This is gorgeous, Ahalia. I love this: “If we don’t tell our stories who will?”

    Thanks for telling your story.

  2. Cari Gulbrandsen

    Dear Ahalia:

    I enjoyed your creative approach to telling your story about being a first generation college student through poetry. I really appreciated how you honored your family connections and illuminated how achieving a college education is not only about you, it is also about the hopes and dreams your family has for you. I think responsibility to family and extended family is something that we need to be reminded of more often. Your post made me realize how achieving a college education is not necessarily an individualistic endeavor even though it is usually “marketed” that way.

    I wish you well in your work educating others about classism and I completely agree that telling our stories is an ideal place to start. We don’t hear or discuss much about classism in Canada where I am writing from, even on college or university campuses. Classism exists, but it seems that there is less openness about it. It is heartening that your organization is cultivating awareness and action, and that there is an online forum to discuss issues related to class.

  3. Ahalia

    Dr. Jane — Thank you! Thanks for your awesome keynote at our Putting Education First Summit and inspiring not only me but others in the room.

  4. Ahalia

    Cari — Thank you so much for your wonderful comment and I totally agree with what you said.

    Even in the states and on college campuses issues of class are not spoken about even though classist comments and acts are blatantly obvious. Class Action is definitely a great place that does extremely great work in challenging these ideas and working towards bridging the gap and I am proud that I have had the opportunity to work with them.

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