In meeting Ann Murano for the first time, the best word that sums up her presence and personality is a “spitfire”. She is petite, has a sparkle in her eye, and is quick to make a joke and put others at ease. She’s also deeply passionate about justice, equity, education, and her students.
In 2017, Ann and her student Sammie Casas became Bezos Scholars. Together, they launched a community change project called We Fight Fear. Over 20% of the students at their school, Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School in Dallas, TX, are undocumented. Their one-day event challenged fear and stereotypes of immigrants and refugees in their Dallas community through storytelling, dialogue, and education on immigration policy.
Ann shared, “The Bezos Scholars Program arrived when as an Educator I was wondering, ‘Am I meant to continue doing this work?’ The connection with the program and the support and encouragement we got was a game changer. What seemed insurmountable and overwhelming suddenly felt and became possible.”
This year, Ann continued this important work with Mirka Estrada, a young leader passionate about student civic engagement and connecting communities across difference for better understanding, compassion, and equity.Mirka and Ann at Aspen Challenge in Dallas before they presented to a crowd of 200.
In spring 2019, Ann and Mirka were invited to present their work to a crowd of several hundred students, educators, judges, and community leaders at Aspen Challenge: Dallas. Inspired by the model of the Bezos Scholars Program and supported by the Bezos Family Foundation, Aspen Challenge works with large urban school districts to provide inspiration, tools, and a platform for young people to design solutions to some of the most critical problems humanity faces.
Earlier in the year, presenter Liz Cedillo-Pereira, the City of Dallas’s Director of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs, had encouraged Aspen Challenge students to design a project that creates support for immigrants in their community, moving beyond fear and tolerance to an authentic state of welcoming. Dallas is the third largest city in the U.S. with the highest population of immigrants and refugees, after Los Angeles and New York.
At the event, Mirka courageously shared with the audience how her whole family lives in fear because her mom does not have a green card and that lack of information on how they could navigate their daily lives without documentation was a huge barrier.Mirka and Ann presenting at Aspen Challenge: Dallas.
Three of the 20 Challenge teams designed projects to support immigrant and refugee communities:
Moises E. Molina High School created Los Coyotes, a group that advocates for immigration reform by organizing town hall-style meetings with local leaders and politicians and connects community members to resources that assist families to become legal citizens.
Skyline High School created RESILIENCE (Reaching Equitable Solutions Involving Lives of Immigrants Entering New Communities Every Day) which is a community resource fair connecting people, places, and resources that enable immigrants to build successful lives and enrich the community.
W. H. Adamson High School created The Oak Cliff Culture which fosters cultural awareness and empathy toward immigrants by creating an art gallery that showcases pride in students and the community’s places of origin, traditions, and cultures.
Giving young people a seat at the table to be part of the solution to some of our world’s most pressing problems is what Aspen Challenge and the Bezos Scholars Program are all about.
Ann, Mirka, and the hundreds of students and educators from the Dallas Independent School District are inspiring and set a powerful example for each of us to lead with action, heart, and hope.