‘I was so happy:’ MPS fifth-grader shares experience of speaking at roundtable with VP Kamala Harris
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – Years of work on green projects at Lenaya Mejia’s school culminated in an opportunity to speak with and meet Vice President Kamala Harris during her visit to the city on Tuesday, May 4.
Lenaya, a fifth grader at Lincoln Avenue Elementary School, learned she would participate at a roundtable with the vice president on Monday.
“I was like really shocked, I was so happy,” Lenaya told CBS 58. “But then I was nervous because I didn’t know what to say.”
Harris visited UW-Milwaukee’s University Services and Research building to tour the facility and discuss the Biden administration’s focus on green jobs and clean energy. Lenaya joined the discussion to talk about green projects at her school.
“We actually have a bioswale, a rain garden and we also have a vegetable garden,” Lenaya told the vice president.
Lenaya earned applause, an elbow bump and even a few private words with Harris.
“She actually told me a compliment,” Lenaya recounted. “That one day I’m going to be in her shoes and that actually boosted me up.”
The projects at Lincoln Avenue were made possible through partnerships with 16th Street Community Health Center and United Way. The school applied for grants for various projects over the years.
“Part of our initiative to impact the health and wellbeing of our community is to add more greenspace and to activate those spaces and show our neighbors and our students how we can use them and just to learn about them,” community school coordinator Regina Stieber told CBS 58. “So they can know everything about it and they can become stewards and advocates for it too.”
Lincoln Avenue School was awarded the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon for its projects. It’s the first MPS school and first bilingual school in Wisconsin to earn that honor. Stieber said the projects not only cultivate green spaces but also the minds and passions of students like Lenaya.
“They can take the passion that we’re helping to foster here and they can really go and change the world with that,” Stieber said.
Lincoln Avenue School Principal Damaris Ayala also participated in Tuesday’s roundtable. While she was honored to be part of the event, she was filled with pride because of Lenaya’s opportunity to speak directly with Vice President Harris.
“It wasn’t about me,” Ayala said. “I needed it to come from our students because they’re the ones that have to live it and they have to take it to that next level.”
Ayala believes the experience will have a lasting impact on Lenaya.
“What I want is for her to feel that she could take that confidence and develop herself and be able to share what she knows and get people to join her in whatever she wants to do,” Ayala said.
Ayala added that Vice President Harris’ status as the first woman of color to hold the position made the meeting even more special.
“That’s the takeaway. We got this. Brown, Black girls, boys, urban, south side of Milwaukee, north side of Milwaukee, we got this. It’s just a matter of time we just have to keep fighting the fight.”