Three Alta High Students Earn Martin Luther King Awards
By Julie Slama | Julie@mycityjournals.com
Sandy - Alta High School junior Kiara Vargas applied for the Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Award because she wanted to represent her school as a leader and role model to her peers.
On Jan. 18, she, as well as classmates Gabriela Puerto and David Duran, were honored along with seven other students from across the state with plaques and gift cards as part of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. observation with Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Biskupski, University of Utah, the Salt Lake City chapter of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Council, and the Utah NAACP.
“They were awarded for their work in supporting diversity, building cross-cultural understanding, improving social justice and community service,” Albert Spencer-Wise, Alta High Latinos in Action adviser, said. “This is the first time Alta students have been selected.”
Vargas was surprised she was selected.
“I was waking up to get to school and like usual, I was checking my emails at my mom’s house and I saw this email,” she said. “At first, I actually thought that they were sending me an email that I didn’t get it, but the attachment was super long so I kept on reading. I was super happy [that I got the award], and I went to my mom and just began screaming at her. She didn’t know what was going on, so it was pretty funny.”
A second recognition was held Jan. 21 at the U of U, and included workshops and discussions with the keynote speaker, Talib Kweli, a hip-hop and rap artist from Brooklyn, New York, who uses his music to help inspire and bring awareness of social issues.
“They were able to have a round table discussion with Mr. Kweli and were able to hear his views of social justice and activism, including his inspirations and role models. He shared with them why it is important to be an active member in society and don’t just walk by a problem because what you do matters if you’re helping people and doing something that is right,” Spencer-Wise said.
He said that all three students are active with Alta High’s Latinos in Action program, which teaches students how to serve their community, plan for college and train in leadership.
“They are building bridges between different groups here at school and reaching out to other schools to make connections between them. They’ve planned the Diversity Assembly that embraces the different clubs and brought in a keynote speaker to unite everyone,” Spencer-Wise said.
They networked with several school groups: Gay Straight Alliance, Native Americans, Polynesian Club, foreign exchange students, French Club, Spanish Club, German Club and others. They also invited students from Jordan and Corner Canyon high schools to participate “to bridge rivalries, establish friendships and collaboration in community service,” he said.
Kiara, who is Alta High’s Latino in Action president, said this assembly helped to bond classmates.
“I think that uniting others will be a simple way in making this world better. I want others to understand that everyone is different, there is no one person that is the same, never. It is impossible. So by being in multiple ‘cliques,’ I can bring my closest friends with others. I am a bridge between cultures when it comes to speaking Spanish to those who don’t speak English, and speaking English to those who don’t speak Spanish. And being able to adapt to the social situation is something everyone should learn how to do,” she said.
Through Latinos in Action, the students also have been involved in a canned food drive, a winter clothing drive for Midvale Elementary, tutoring at Altara Elementary and are working with community outreach through the district to find service opportunities across the local community.
They also are in the final stages in helping to create Utah’s first League of United Latin American Citizens Youth Council to work with state and federal organizations to plan for college and leadership opportunities.