U-Lead Athens is, in our students’ words, United, Unafraid, Undefeated, Unstoppable Leaders. Students and/or their parents are also undocumented or un(der)documented immigrants. Every Thursday night, Clarke County high school students and recent graduates who have lived in the US most of their lives gather to work with volunteer mentors: spectacular students with UGA’s Undocumented Student Alliance (USA), faculty from CCSD and UGA, and community members. The Oconee Street United Methodist Church donates the space. Students identify and apply for colleges that will accept students with varying immigration statuses, prepare for standardized tests, and search and apply for scholarships. They plan to work in fields such as biology, engineering, education, heating and air conditioning, medical information technology, international relations, and psychology; they have expertise in music, art, multiple languages, and public speaking. Several are also strong immigration rights activists.
My family and I are originally from Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico. I went through the entire K-12 public school system here, and was actively involved in my High School, Cedar Shoals. I took four years of Drama, AP art, and am active in the art community. I have been an immigrant rights activist for 4 years. I have been working full time to make ends meet in my trailer for our family of 4. I want to be a clinical psychologist to help others with mental health issues. U-Lead has helped me immensely by offering me a space to acknowledge that I need help, resources I couldn't afford, and people who can help me with tutoring and completing FAFSA forms and other support. I am now attending Berea College on a full scholarship.
I came into the United States from El Salvador when I was five. Church has always been a huge part of my life. I have learned how to manage my religious, sports, and clubs while still making good grades. Having TPS prevents me from getting any federal funding. With four daughters and one already in college, it is almost impossible for my family to provide the rest of us with the same opportunity. I dream of going to college and majoring in Early Childhood Education. U-Lead has helped me in believing that achieving my dream could be possible. I am now studying at Young Harris College thanks to their scholarship and U-Lead.
At age 4, I came to the United States from El Salvador with my mom and two sisters to join my dad who had been here working to save money for us. I’ve worked hard for good grades (4.5 GPA) to make my parents proud and have been involved in sports and clubs throughout high school. I want to study Law and make a difference in my community. There is no way my parents could afford to have 3 daughters in college paying out-of-state tuition with no federal aid. U-Lead is helping me get closer to my goal while sharing a space with others who give me hope. I am now attending Smith College on a full scholarship.
I retired after teaching in UGA's College of Education Language & Literacy Education Department for 28 years. I deplored being at a university that banned undocumented students. Faculty at CCSD and UGA sponsored several forums on Immigration and Education, and began working together on several fronts to address discrimination affecting un(der)documented immigrants. In 2014, we listened to what local students needed and founded U-Lead Athens to respond to those needs, with the amazing weekly support of UGA’s Undocumented Student Alliance and other mentors. My roles include writing coach, cook, organizer, activist, and friend.
I came to Georgia in 2000 to teach Latin American Literatures and Cultures at the University of Georgia. In 2010 I became horrified by the anti-immigrant laws and the ban on undocumented students from the 5 most competitive colleges in Georgia, including UGA. Witnessing what youth activists were doing in reaction to all this discrimination was my inspiration to take action in their support. I was part of the founding group of Freedom University, and since 2014, together with JoBeth and an amazing group of students, teachers, and supporters we continue the fight for equal access to higher education at U-Lead Athens.
Lift the ban! In-state tuition in the State of Georgia for all Georgia high school graduates!
Melissa Perez Rhym
I began teaching at Cedar Shoals High School in 2012 where I am now the Parent and Community Director. I became involved with U-Lead after hearing from students about the obstacles and difficulties they face in trying to pursue their post secondary education. I became frustrated with the lack of available information for educators concerning the restrictive policies that limit where many of my students can attend and how they can finance their education. Together with JoBeth, Betina and numerous other mentors and volunteers from the community, U-Lead provides a space where students, regardless of documentation status, can find support and assistance, whether it be academic, financial, or emotional. U-Lead has built a strong community where students are supported and nurtured. I am proud to be a part of this dedicated community.
Who Are U-Lead Mentors and Allies?
Undocumented Student Alliance- Students from UGA who strive for change as allies of un(der)documented students
Faculty from Clarke County School District and University of Georgia
Members of Oconee Street United Methodist Church and the Athens Community