By Anne Brice, Berkeley News
Raising enough money for a group of teenage girls to take a trip to the Caribbean isn’t easy. But Derrika Hunt made it happen.
She’s a PhD candidate in education at UC Berkeley. She started a nonprofit in 2017 called Dreamers4Change Foundation. One of its programs, Passports4Change, brings teenage girls of color from economically disadvantaged communities on trips to somewhere new in the world.
“Many of our youth have never left their communities,” she says. “There’s an idea of meritocracy, that you have to work hard to get out. And I think the girls understand that, “No matter how hard I work sometimes I literally cannot get out.”
She makes it clear that it isn’t a study abroad experience or a destination vacation. In fact, it’s hard work. It’s a chance for them to see new things, taste new foods, smell new aromas, touch new things — to expand their view of the world. It’s an opportunity for them to begin to see and visualize a new world. To begin to realize that change is possible.
“We often instill in the girls, ‘The world that you want will not happen. You will not wake up in a world that will be instantly better or somehow this place of equality or equity. You have to create that world.’”
For Derrika, that message began with her mom, who taught her to dream big and fight for what she believed in.
Derrika grew up in South Florida. She says her schooling experiences often felt disempowering as she says they often do for youth of color in low-income schools.
“I lived in a community that was predominantly Black and Brown and predominantly poor, and so you have us going to these schools where we’re learning nothing about ourselves, nothing about our own empowerment,” says Derrika. “And so I think it really creates a distress in the youth and it creates an uninterest in school.”
In third grade, when all the other kids stood to say the Pledge of Allegiance, Derrika stayed sitting and silent.
“I remember telling my mom, ‘This doesn’t feel right to me. Why am I saying this pledge and then going home every day to this community, seeing people suffer. Seeing people marginalized. But I’m pledging to this country that doesn’t pledge to us?’”
Derrika’s mom stood by her daughter’s decision. “My mom always said that I could do what felt best and she would 100 percent support me.”
Instead of reading Romeo and Juliet or The Great Gatsby, Derrika read The Color Purple by Alice Walker and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.
“Those stories represented me,” she says. “I saw myself in them and they were literature that was beautiful. My mom’s premier focus was, `I want you to know yourself first and then we move outside of ourselves.’”
Her mom encouraged her to learn different languages, write poetry, create artwork – all experiences that kept her interested in learning.
As a doctoral candidate at Berkeley, Derrika is working to create a pathway to give youth an education beyond the kind that traditional schools offer their students today.
Last year, Passports4Change traveled to Trinidad and Tobago. To raise the $7,000 needed for the group of 15 to go on the trip, Derrika applied for small grants, organized group bake sales and car washes, and worked longer hours to cover the rest.
Derrika says the girls found it fascinating to be in a country where most of the population was of African or East Indian descent, or indigenous to the area. “They somehow felt seen in a different way where everybody looked like them, not in a homogenous sense, but people were overwhelmingly people of color. They didn’t feel so different or ostracized. They were the majority and that majority entails a range from the good to the bad.”
Upon return, a group of girls began to attend their local city council meetings. They wrote letters about how the school they attend treats them unfairly. They’ve even talked to the mayor about it.
On their most recent trip, eight girls of color from the San Francisco Bay Area visited South Africa, including one girl who is experiencing homelessness. The student hadn’t ever been on an airplane and never before imagined she would take such a trip.
“People from where I’m from never get to do stuff like this,” the girl told Derrika. “I feel like my life will be different now but I really don’t even have the words
to explain it.”
Through travel, Passports4Change participants learn and experience the intersections of race, class, gender, citizenship on other intersecting points of identity and/ or oppression.
Participants are guided by a curriculum created by Derrika and Dreamers4Change Foundation staff. The curriculum engages participants to work toward articulating their own politic of location, situating themselves in the global world; and then it moves to an investigation of how colonialism, imperialism and other political formations often determine and shape lives. The curriculum closes with an emphasis on imagination, vision- making, and creating. Once home, the youth are encouraged to use their imaginations to design a project that engages their local communities.
“The trip in and of itself is a transformative experience,” Derrika says. “And when it’s over, it’s really a beginning – the beginning of the youth creating the world they want.”
Editor's note: This article is reprinted with the permission of Berkeley News. Portions of this article were updated. Listen to a podcast of the Berkeley News conversation with Derrika Hunt at news.berkeley.edu/2018/03/12/podcast-interview-w-grad-student-derrika-hunt/