I never let myself be overcome by fear.

Maria Leticia “Letty” Toribio (formerly Patiño) is a Mexican immigrant mother of three daughters from the Hermosa Community on the Northwest side of Chicago. She is the former co-chair of the Elementary Justice Campaign in POWER-PAC IL.

Letty uses her voice to speak to the media and bring attention to inequities in school discipline among Black and Brown students in comparison with their white classmates and her continuing work in the Elementary Justice Campaign to remove police from schools

A Latina woman wearing a denim jacket and yellow dress is interviewed by a television reporter

Here Letty tells a powerful story of a time that she (alongside fellow parents) fought tooth and nail to change the problematic leadership at her daughters’ school. (Please turn on subtitles for the English version.):

Transcription (translated to English):

I live in the Hermosa community in North Chicago. The majority of residents are Latino. 

Being involved in my daughters’ school, I noticed that the school committees and the local school board (LSC) were not totally run by the parents. The school administration always made the most important decisions and didn’t manage things the way CPS mandates. 

Our concerns were not addressed. The principal’s assistant never found a solution to problems. She even came to offend parents. Our communication with the principal was terrible because he did not speak Spanish.

When we saw that things weren’t functioning well, we decided to create a parent group. We demanded that the principal manage the school the way CPS mandated and solve some of the problems. 

Instead of having a solution for us, he prohibited me from entering parts of the school building. The rest of the parents advocated on my behalf, so I could enter the building, but they were not welcome either. We did not have a place to meet, so our parent group had to meet on the street in extremely cold weather or in a neighborhood cafe that gave us permission.

After fighting for a long time, we decided to find the head of our school network to introduce ourselves, present our worries and our testimonials. In a few months, our school administration was removed by the school district, and we were given an interim principal. 

In 2016, we finally offered a contract to a new principal. She had the requirements that we were looking for to run a school with a high population of Latino students.

I feel happy that I was a part of this great change in my community. Achieving something like this wasn’t easy.  I am a mother with barely 6 years of schooling and getting involved in a school in this country seemed impossible, and even more impossible if we add the language barrier that limited me. 

But, I never let myself be overcome by fear. I turned it into a challenge, and I used it as motivation to keep fighting. I don’t know how many times I had to make mistakes in order to learn!

My name is Maria Patiño from the Hermosa community.