Teaching to Change LA > Youth Voices > Vol. 5, Issue 1 > Electoral Politics
Electoral Politics > Features > Student Work

On Being a Critical Researcher:
A Letter of Thanks

Jessyca Gilmore is a senior at Olympic High School in Los Angeles.

Dear Rudy and Veronica,

I came to this seminar with a very large grudge against the world and I thought that nothing mattered if it didn’t directly affect me or someone that I knew personally. I always wanted my world to stay separate from those who looked like me, and who were less fortunate then me because I hated when people would say that I was just like them, that the things that were happening to them could just as easily happen to me. I always thought that there was some type of burden being Black, and people saw it as well and felt bad for me because they automatically thought that I was poor or from a broken home. I hated the thought of being felt sorry for, so I did everything that I could to set myself apart from my other Black peers. I listened to different music bands, not hip-hop groups; I dressed in skate shoes like Vans, rather then the new Jordan’s.

You both have taught me that I can question the way things are and not be considered stupid or not as smart. I can ask why and demand an answer rather then accept the silence.

You have taught me that there is art, pride, and history in the community of East LA and it is something that we should acknowledge and not ignore.

Veronica, you have taught me that it’s OK to think about people other than myself, and that what happens to people like me does affect me. You once said, “How can you move up on the ladder if you don’t even know where it is?” How is it that I thought I was learning and growing and I didn’t even understand where it was I came from. Even in the conversations that we have had that had nothing to do with the seminar, I listened to what you were saying and I respected and valued your opinion. You once told me that just because I come from a more privileged family then some people of color doesn’t mean that the things that happen to them can’t happen to me. Now I see that I shouldn’t think that I’m any better than them just because I live in a better neighborhood. You have taught me how to get to the point when asking a question and what questions to ask, this is something that I will use for the rest of my life, and I thank you for it.

Rudy, you have taught me that knowing and understanding go hand in hand. Knowing what is wrong or right with something is not enough, you have to understand what is going on to really know. When you got frustrated and told us that we need to focus, it always helped me not just to stop talking and get to work but to realize that what we are doing is very important and should be taken seriously. You have taught me that there is art, pride, and history in the community of East LA and it is something that we should acknowledge and not ignore.

I started out as the quiet one that didn’t want to hear what anyone else had to say; I was happy with what I knew and I didn’t want anyone trying to change my views. Now I speak when I have something to say and I ask the questions that I know people don’t want to answer. I have realized that you were not trying to change my views, you were just trying to expand them. The other day I was trying to explain to my friend how much I learned and how excited I was that I knew all that I did. She told me that it was summer and that she didn’t want to hear about how much I had learned. I realized that she didn’t want to hear about how excited I was because she didn’t think that the things that I was learning here were important to her life or mine. I told her that she missed out on this experience and that she would never meet great teachers that care so much like the both of you do.

Before I got here I never thought that my thoughts were worth anything, and my ideas of the way things should be were completely off base. I now have more confidence and am able to tell people that my ideas are just that, my ideas.

Before I got here I never thought that my thoughts were worth anything, and my ideas of the way things should be were completely off base. I now have more confidence and am able to tell people that my ideas are just that, my ideas. They are not wrong and I do have a right to try and make things better for myself and for others. Now my thoughts aren’t just thoughts, I can turn them into actions at any time and I know how to get people to listen in a respectful way.

Being a critical researcher to me is about thinking about the things that I'm told that I shouldn’t even know about. It means going beyond asking normal questions to demanding detailed answers. It is being the voice of people like me. I now know that they are like me and helping them is also helping myself. I am so enthusiastic about gaining knowledge and sharing knowledge that even after I go home I’m thinking about the things that I did that day and how I could have done it even better, and what I am going to do the next time to change it. I am thinking about things now that my whole life people have told me I shouldn’t and now I know what questions that I need to be asking. I know how to ask people to look at me in a different way. Now they look at me like I know things rather than that I am just another continuation student trying to prove her intelligence.

There has not been a day since the beginning of this seminar that I have not thought about what you both would say in a situation. If I’m asking a question like why am I getting ten dollars for doing a job and when my sister does the same job she gets twenty. I think about how you, Veronica, would whisper in my ear questions like, “What can I do to do a better job?” Or, “what it is that she is doing that I am not?” Believe it or not asking questions never came easily to me. I thought that asking “why” was rude and disrespectful and it should never be done. Now I can look at things and ask why also in ways that aren’t disrespectful. I have learned so much and I have opened up so much, and I owe a lot of that to the both of you. There was something about our group that I liked, and I am not a group activity person. I think that if I had any other teachers I wouldn't have stayed in the seminar. I no longer feel like I’m doing something wrong or like what I’m doing at a certain point in time isn’t what I am supposed to be doing. I have more confidence than I did before and I owe that in part to the both of you.

From here I would like to go on and teach people about the things that I learned and how it has affected my life in a good way. I also hope that I can come back next year and help with another group and maybe even do the same thing for another student that you have done for me. The way you both deal with things and the way you talk to your students makes me feel like we are doing a good thing here and I am happy that I contributed to the end product.

Through all of the hard times and walls that we hit, I still want the both of you to know that I enjoyed every moment of this experience and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Every day that goes by is another day closer to the end and I have all these emotions, sadness being one of them. I am sad because it’s over and sad because I have made friends here and not seeing them anymore is a real possibility. But I have learned that there is a reason for everything and a way to change things if I’m not happy with how they are. I know that if I ever needed any of these people I can pick up the phone or e-mail them and they will have some type of advice to give me. I know that if I ever needed advice about ways I can gather information I can call you, Rudy, and if I ever need to find out information about how and why things are the way they are I can always pick up the phone and call you, Veronica, and you will help me the best that you can. You are both caring teachers and I am lucky that I have had the privilege to be taught by the both of you. I hope that we stay in touch and from here we have built a long lasting relationship.

Teaching to Change LA is an online journal of IDEA, UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, & Access