When Shayla Rodriguez (16 currently) was 8, her mother had to work two jobs to support her and her sisters. She explains that her older sister, Berenice (25 currently), became her “mother, father, older sister, and friend, and raised her into the young lady she is today”.
When Berenice Rodriguez was in 7th grade, she was one of 70 students in the country chosen to receive the Jack Kent Cooke Young Scholar Scholarship. She attended high school at the prestigious Paideia School, where she woke up at 5am every day to commute for two hours by bus and train. As a DACA student, she was aware that her college options were limited and she did not have the option to apply to “back up schools”. She worked harder than her peers to excel academically while working with grassroots advocacy groups. Her main goal was to advocate for those struggling with language barriers and financial and social oppression. The young activist came out as Undocumented and Unafraid at the steps of the Georgia State capitol at age 15. She won the prestigious Princeton Prize in Race Relations for her work.
Berenice was accepted into multiple prestigious schools, including Ivy League schools, but she chose to attend Syracuse University for its diversity and commitment to social justice. She left for college 1,000 miles away with a small suitcase, one-way plane ticket, and $50 in her pocket. By the time she graduated with dual degrees in Citizenship and Civic Engagement and International Relations and Affairs, she had abundant experience in organizing for immigrant and farmworker communities with organizations including the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Eastern Farm Workers Association, Workers Center of Central New York, among other groups.
Shayla says that growing up, Berenice taught her to “never fear anything and to never let anyone take something she wanted away from her”. Excuses were not just accepted in her household, which pushed her to not give up on her goals easily. Shayla completed 4th grade in Mexico City to learn to speak and write in fluent Spanish. She is a current junior at Hapeville Charter Career Academy and student body president of her high school. Her proudest accomplishment is the “Bridging the Gap” project, where she hosts workshops in her community to empower Hispanics to discuss resiliency strategies and create safer, healthier, and more educated communities. She spent a week in Washington, DC with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s NextGen R2L program where she was trained in advocacy and civic engagement. Shayla also completed the Latino Community Fund’s Youth Entrepreneurship Series and hopes to kick off her body butter business by this summer.
Berenice is currently a BIA accredited legal representative and the Legal Program Associate for Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta, where she works on Know Your Rights campaigns for immigrant communities, DACA renewal and Citizenship workshops, and removal defense work for asylum seekers and non-detained immigrants in Georgia. Her goals are to work as an international human rights lawyer and/or work for a worldwide organization fighting for economic and social equality, as well as basic human rights. Shayla hopes to receive a paid internship this summer and attend UCLA, University of Miami, UC Berkeley, or the University of Pennsylvania. She hopes to major in criminology and complete a fellowship after college. Her advice for other students is the following: “If you do not like something in your community MAKE A CHANGE!! Do not be scared to be that person to speak their mind because we have that right to put it in use”.