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Ethnic Studies Undergraduate Wins $10,000 Award


By Staci Wilson, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
May 14, 2012

Third year ethnic studies major Freddy Lopez has recently been awarded a $10,000 Donald A. Strauss public service scholarship to help fund a project he designed, “Art of the P.O.O.R (People Orchestrating Optimistic Renditions).” Once implemented, the project will provide a safe space where young people can meet about three times a week, learn about the arts, and explore various forms of self-expression.

“Art of the P.O.O.R” was actually inspired by Mr. Lopez’s personal experience with City Team, an organization which used to operate (before it lost funding) in his hometown of East Palo Alto. Though Lopez thinks of E.P.A. as home and recognizes it as one source of his personal strength, he can’t help but to describe the place as crime infested. His uncle was shot and killed one afternoon while sitting in a car in his own driveway, and on the rare occasion that Lopez found himself on the streets after school, trouble seemed almost unavoidable. City Team, on the other hand, provided a kind of safe haven from the tumult of the city (for Lopez and for many of his friends). When Lopez was there, at least, he felt safe and out of troubles’ reach.

The program not only kept him off the streets, however, it also fostered the real beginning of his academic career. “City Team is where I acted in my first play, wrote my first rhyme, and held my first microphone to sing,” reflects Lopez. The artistic projects he became involved in there taught him not only about art and healthy self-expression, but also about himself. Lopez He He began to discover what mattered to him and what he wanted to accomplish in his life, and this drive reflected positively on his academic work. “I credit many of my current achievements to this program’s nourishment and hospitality,” he says.

By the time he left home for college, Lopez was not only seeking a higher education, but a higher purpose. “My departure was not only to get away from all the dysfunction and violence of E.P.A.,” he explains, “but also to seek and discover solutions to help improve it. After all, it is my hometown.”

With the implementation of his “Art for the P.O.O.R” program, Lopez hopes to bring a similar experience to underprivileged youth in Riverside. With the aid of Gladis Herrera-Berkowitz (Associate Director of Student Affairs, Honors) and Professor Stephen Brint (Vice Provost Undergraduate Education), he is working to implement mentorship that will use art to focus in on and explore current challenges in students’ communities. His ultimate goal: use the power of imagination to foster self-esteem, leadership, and self-awareness. In this way, Lopez hopes to empower young people to face up to their personal challenges, as well as those of their communities.


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