May 1, 2023
Tags: Anytown Alumni, Diversity, Education, Inclusion, Representation, Youth Leadership,
Sophia Carson (Anytown 2019) was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. After living abroad and up in Michigan for roughly 9 years, her family traveled back down and settled just north of Greensboro in 2014. The transition from her welcoming and inclusive family to middle school was jarring.
After coming out in 2018 – the summer after 8th grade — Sophia experienced greater backlash at her school, Northwest Guilford High School. Then, over Thanksgiving break that same year, two upperclassmen shared a horrible, racist video on social media. Underwhelmed by the response from administrators, Sophia (then a freshman) decided to contact NCCJ. This event sparked an ongoing relationship with NCCJ that Sophia cherishes to this day.
After attending Anytown during the summer of 2019, Sophia felt ready to take on formal leadership roles. She connected with the Guilford Green Foundation and helped plan the GSO Alt Prom. Sophia also led her school’s GSA and a discussion-based club (founded by Anytown alums) called United Youth of Excellence (UYE). With UYE, she organized a movement to diversify their school’s English curriculum.
Working with peers, school staff and administration, Sophia led a campaign to diversify the literature being taught in Northwest’s English classes:
“When I was in elementary school, reading was one of my favorite things to do. I loved feeling transported into different realms and exploring the lives and stories of different characters. As I got older, I noticed my attention span decreasing, and reading–especially for school–became more and more of a chore. I believe, in part, this was because I couldn’t relate to the characters I was reading about. Connecting with NCCJ made me think more critically of the media I was consuming in and outside of the classroom, and after becoming President of an AnyTown-style club at my school, I decided to try and change the required reading to be more representative of the student body.
To start this process I began reaching out to students of all different grades, and asking them for their thoughts on this topic. I found that most students agreed with me. The literature we were reading, and the way it was being taught was outdated. We researched newer, more diverse books from state and national curricula, and created a list of the ones we were most interested in. By using resources from Guilford county and AP English class curricula themselves, we immediately increased our credibility. Because we had done this preliminary work, teachers couldn’t just dismiss us.
After the initial discussion and research, my team coordinated with a school counselor who was passionate about raising student voices–Mr. Aaron Murphy. He helped break down barriers and got us a time slot to present in front of the Northwest High School English department. Using excerpts from the AP Language and Composition course description, we showed that our English classes were supposed to have diversity already built into the curricula. We showed short video clips from experts talking about the importance of diverse media in classrooms. Switching between text heavy slides and 1-2 minute video clips helped us keep our audience engaged during this longer presentation.
The presentation itself was well received by most of the staff, and because of this my team was invited to present to our principal and a couple of representatives from the County. From here we made explicit requests for funding and had teachers order new books before the next school year began.
When attempting to make changes within your school and community, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. I encourage everyone to find a team, connect with organizations like NCCJ, reach out for support, and do your research before presenting your ideas to administration. Start small and work your way up. Celebrate small victories. Learn from failures and make changes necessary to continue your work. As young people we have a unique voice and perspective. It can feel difficult at times, but I encourage you to stick with your passions and continue the fight to make your communities places you are proud to be a part of. ”
Today, Sophia is a student at NC State University, double majoring in chemical engineering and economics with a focus on sustainability. She plans to combine her passions for STEM and social justice by working in energy sustainability for low-income communities. NCCJ is proud of Sophia and grateful for her leadership and willingness to share her experiences and continue mentoring NCCJ’s current Youth Ambassadors.