People Issue: Student Activist Katherine Ledezma-SotoByAmanda Haggard
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In the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, teenagers from Parkland, Fla., have helped shape the narrative around gun control in the United States. But some pundits have questioned whether teens have the insight or maturity to ask for changes in policy.
If you’ve ever met a teenager like Nashville’s Katherine Ledezma-Soto, you know damn well they do. Ledezma-Soto, a 17-year-old senior at KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School in East Nashville, speaks carefully and thoughtfully. She spends her spare time participating in community groups like the Latino Achievers, which she started at KIPP, and working part time at a thrift store.
After Latino Achievers took off at KIPP, Ledezma-Soto branched off from that group to start a similar effort with other youth at the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition — a Nashville nonprofit dedicated to building a more inclusive Tennessee.
“Recently, with what happened in Florida, I’ve had like five freshman come to me asking what we can do about gun violence,” Ledezma-Soto says. “And it’s great, because I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter my age, it doesn’t matter my race, my gender, I can speak out on something I believe is wrong, and I know how to do it. I might not know exactly the path, but I know how to start. And I’m happy to help other students figure out how to start.”
Ledezma-Soto’s path to community activism started with a book. In a book club at KIPP, she read Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli — a work that looks at the stories of young immigrants and their experiences coming to the United States. Ledezma-Soto, the daughter of immigrants from Mexico, says that while she always understood the social implications of immigration, the book helped her understand the legal implications.
“At first, it drove me to want to strictly become a lawyer,” says Ledezma-Soto, who plans to major in political science when she leaves for college in the fall. “But as I read and as I interacted more with policies and with issues in my community and school, I thought, ‘Being a lawyer is great, but there are so many other ways I can be proactive and start making a change.’ ”
Ledezma-Soto says she learned she could participate in and help organize marches — she took part in a silent march in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients in the fall and a march attempting to push lawmakers to pass legislation on DACA in December.
“To most kids it would seem like a hassle to start events or go to marches,” says Ledezma-Soto. “But to me, when you’re fueled by passion, it seems like something you need to do for yourself as much as you need to do it for the community.”
Before she starts college (she plans to attend either the University of Tennessee or Emory University), Ledezma-Soto says she intends to complete a TIRRC internship this summer on political campaigning.
“I know I’ll learn a lot in college and as I grow older, but right now I’m not going to let my age stop me from taking action.”