Undocumented Pebblebrook Student Wins Cash Prize for Activism
A local nonprofit organization honors an undocumented student from Austell for his achievements.
Rolando "Richie" Zenteno of Pebblebrook High School is a fighter, and he and 15 other young men of color in Georgia were recently honored by the Colored Rocks Foundation, established by Cheryl Dukes to help increase high school graduation rates among male students from diverse ethnic backgrounds. The young men will share a prize fund of $5,000 for their accomplishments.
The winners were chosen from their essay competition answers and from their plans to use their talents to complete a unique individual program that will specifically inspire and motivate other male students of color in their community.
Richie admits to a rare period of introspection when he began writing his essay. “It was difficult at first to solidify my ideas but as soon as I was able to establish a connection and see my vision then the words fell to me naturally. My experiences as an activist and as a member of a minority group helped me identify with the theme of being a Colored Rock and inspired my answer.”
Richie's project is unique among all the Colored Rocks finalists. He is aiming to begin a chapter of the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance (GUYA) in his community. GUYA is an advocacy and campaign group fighting for the rights and equal treatment for young immigrants and their families in the state of Georgia.
“The subject is one I am passionate about and has a direct connection with my life. I am not working on the project just to gain any recognition, although that is always nice, but to fulfill work that has to be done. We are all interdependent people - I have helped many others and been helped by even more, so it feels special to keep the cycle going and there is no better feeling than giving a hand to someone who is in need,” Zenteno said.
He would like to work in journalism after college, ideally in television for one of the main broadcast networks and will always have his family to provide love, support and inspiration.
“My family's struggle through life and their determination has fueled my dreams to reach the top. I am more motivated than ever before to prove and show the citizens and government of Georgia that an undocumented student has the ability to become a contributing and useful member of society,” Zenteno said.
Dukes, the founder of Colored Rocks, said Zenteno and the other young men are the reason she established her organization.
“It’s disturbing that many male students of color are struggling to graduate from Georgia high schools, and in establishing the foundation, we saw this as an opportunity to turnaround one of Georgia’s most pressing challenges and promising resources," said Dukes.
“Through our awards, we are showing that Georgia’s young men of color can compete academically with the best in the country and be significant contributors to their communities, no matter their chosen discipline. The important thing is to choose something and do it well,” she said in a statement from the organization.