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‘I found my voice:’ A Denver teen on the new Movimiento Poder

A group of people wearing Movimiento Poder T-shirts pose for a photo. Many of them have a fist raised in the air. They are wearing face masks.

Movimiento Poder announced its new name and logo at a launch party on Dec. 1.

Courtesy of Movimiento Poder

An advocacy organization that has fought for three decades for racial justice in Denver Public Schools has a new name, a new logo, and an updated vision.

Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, which began in 1991 in response to an elementary school principal who punished Spanish-speaking students by making them eat lunch on the floor, is now called Movimiento Poder. The organization has been a leading voice in Denver for the elimination of harsh student discipline and police officers in schools.

“Throughout our organization’s 30-year journey for justice there has been one constant: We are always about change,” Executive Director Elsa Bañuelos said in a statement. “Our new name and face honors that tradition, while it centers the struggle led by our members, who are largely Latine youth, immigrants, women, families, and queer folks.”

Movimiento Poder uses Latine to describe the community it serves, rather than Latino or Latinx. Latine is a gender-inclusive term that its members prefer over Latinx, which doesn’t flow as well in Spanish, said Tzigane Martin, the organization’s communications coordinator.

Chalkbeat spoke with a youth leader from Movimiento Poder about the organization’s new name and new logo, a circle of culturally relevant colors meant to signify inclusivity, with a yellow center that represents the yellow circle on the Colorado state flag. Jacobo Gracia-Meza, a junior at STRIVE Prep SMART high school, was involved in the organization’s rebranding.

Jacobo Gracia-Meza, high school junior in Denver, poses in front of a wall adorned with twinkle lights. He is wearing a Movimiento Poder T-shirt.

Jacobo Gracia-Meza, a junior at STRIVE Prep SMART, is a member of Movimiento Poder.

Courtesy of Movimiento Poder

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Chalkbeat: How did you get involved with Movimiento Poder?

Gracia-Meza: The reason why I got involved in this program is because I honestly wanted to do something with my life and for my community. I wanted to leave an impact.

Chalkbeat: Can you tell me a little bit about the new name? 

Gracia-Meza: Our old name was Padres & Jóvenes Unidos [which translates to Parents and Young People United]. And basically, not everyone is a parent and not everyone is a young person. The name [Movimiento Poder, which translates to Movement Power] gives a chance for everyone, that everyone is a part of it. 

Chalkbeat: The name is referring to a movement. What does that part of it mean to you?

Gracia-Meza: We want to reflect our community better. We are placing more emphasis on being truly youth led and the name change captures that. We also want to center that our work is about building power in Denver and hopefully one day across the state too. We’ll still be working with multiple generations, like high school students and college students and parents and elders. The name Movimiento Poder accounts for this. It speaks to our organization being more people powered.

Chalkbeat: Tell me about the new logo. What does it represent?

Gracia-Meza: The logo is a circle and every time I look at it, I think of unity. Working together as one.

Chalkbeat: Movimiento Poder also has a new set of core values. One of them is movement building, or standing in solidarity and building alliances with different groups. Can you tell me why that’s important to you as a youth leader?

Gracia-Meza: A lot of people are very segregated just because someone is different from them. I really think that if we stand in solidarity as one, I think we could really do big things from that — if we all worked together despite our differences.

Chalkbeat: What do you hope the organization will focus on this year and in the future? You’ve been really focused on education issues in the past. Will that continue to be a focus?

Gracia-Meza: We’ll keep fighting for the same equitable learning environments. We want our schools to serve us the same way as they serve wealthy and white children. We want schools that provide us with the resources we need to succeed. And we will keep fighting for police-free schools and the end of the school to prison and deportation pipeline. I hope [the organization] is a political home where people feel safe and accepted like I do. It feels like a family and I met a lot of wonderful people here. I hope that one day people like me will be able to lead the organization.

Chalkbeat: As a Denver Public Schools student, what are some of the biggest changes you would want to see, especially in terms of equitable learning environments? Are there things you’ve seen or experienced that you would want to see changed?

Gracia-Meza: What I’ve seen is, I’m in this club called speech and debate, and during tournaments, we will go to other schools to compete. Usually these tournaments are around wealthy and white neighborhoods. I kind of get a bit jealous because I think to myself, ‘Damn, they really have this and we don’t.’ I wish that we had the same opportunities as they have and have the same resources as they do. If they really want students to succeed in life, I think it’s important that everyone should have the same resources to succeed.

Chalkbeat: You mentioned hoping that one day students like you can lead this organization. The organization is led by people who were once students. What is it like to be part of an organization where you see people you can relate to in positions of power?

Gracia-Meza: I really feel like I can do anything. I see people like me who are people of color that are doing these huge things and it really inspires me and motivates me. I’m like, ‘Wow if they can do this, I can do this.’ If there’s a person of color who’s a leader of this program, I’m like, ‘I believe that I can do that too,’ despite all the things that are going on in my community. 

Chalkbeat: Is there anything else you want to add? If there’s one thing you want people to know about Movimiento Poder and your new name and your new vision, what is it?

Gracia-Meza: I want people to know Movimiento Poder is a program where young kids like me have a voice — not be silenced and ignored by all the systems. And I truly believe that if someone wants to do something for their community, I’d convince them to join a program like this. My personal experience here, I changed as a person. I found my voice.

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