JTOH 2020 Group

HSI Week continues with a spotlight on another of the Chicana/o Studies Department’s signature programs.

Throughout the week, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is celebrating Hispanic-Serving Institutions Week, which recognizes HSIs throughout the nation for their work and critical role in educating and empowering Hispanic and Latina/o/x people. Stay tuned for more stories highlighting events, programs and staff that contribute to our mission of being a model of HSI excellence.

The Department of Chicana/o Studies’ Journey Through Our Heritage program is one of the nation’s most innovative and unique multicultural educational programs. Partnering college peer mentors with local elementary, middle and high school students, this “wraparound” program promotes leadership-skill development for all ages by creating an early bond between students and community.

The JTOH mission is to promote, advocate, support and foster participating students to become leaders and community activists through civic engagement, social justice and rigorous academic inquiry and increase the educational attainment for Latinx and first-generation students. The program builds collaborations and partnerships with higher-education institutions, community organizations, business professionals and government departments to empower all students to effectively engage in dialogues that impact their future.

The JTOH student team consists of student office-staff members and student mentors. Each year, the JTOH university team identifies a theme for partner schools and implements a weekly after-school program for each school. One hundred students from schools statewide engage in a yearlong project focused on research, service learning, civic engagement and leadership development. The 2021-22 theme is “Our Stories: Inspiration and Insight.”

This sense of belonging and collective planning gives all the students involved the ability to realize their potential. MSU Denver JTOH mentors also create valuable connections to youth teams by linking them to the University and community organizations such as the Chicano Humanities and Arts Project, the Cleo Parker Dance Ensemble, History Colorado, Sisters of Color, the Corky Gonzales Library and Conservation Colorado. These experiences provide University and local students with opportunities to receive advice from professionals in their respective fields of interest as well as to build skill sets transferable into other employment sectors once they graduate.

JTOH also has offered an annual three-week summer leadership program for the past 10 years at La Alma Recreation Center (serving more than 50 youth each summer and hiring 10-15 youth to act as high school leads). Due to Covid-19, the program transitioned to a safer distanced format, providing more than 1,400 take-and-go art projects to schoolchildren in the summers of 2020 and 2021. In addition, the annual Aurora Fox Theater Cultural Concert series provides 1,500 local schoolchildren with monthly multicultural programming.

Many current MSU Denver JTOH mentors were once on high school teams, and former JTOH alumni are hosting JTOH teams at their own schools, hiring other JTOH alumni, running nonprofits and networking with the current teams.

“The program is built around creating a space for local middle- and high school students implementing curriculum in areas such as Chicana/o studies, Latinx studies, Indigenous studies, African American studies and Native American studies,” said Benda Negrete, a recent MSU Denver graduate. “I walked in with pride in knowing my work mattered and I mattered. Knowing I am part of that team, I wear the title of being a member of Journey Through Our Heritage with pride, knowing what is in store for the future generations who will join this program.”

This award-winning team is seeking new mentors to join it in 2021-22.