Jacqulyn is a first generation 30-year-old Korean American woman who joined Teach For America after graduating from Harvard's School of Education, and moved to Compton, Los Angeles to teach in a predominantly black and Hispanic public high school. In college, she learned about systemic oppression and our nation’s legacy of policies that discriminate against marginalized groups. So, she became a teacher to empower young people to take ownership of their right to belong, and to have a say in how their country is governed. Her goal in life is to work in leadership positions that create more ACCESS to our disenfranchised communities—access to quality education, quality health care, quality housing, and overall quality living. She's also the founder and president of Girlspace Compton, an organization that supports local young women and non-binary youth in fostering leadership, unity and confidence.
Our founder Yu-Chen Shih interviewed the incredibly inspiring Jacqulyn Whang on her story and experiences.
Tell us about your experience at Teach For America and why it prompted you to move to Compton to teach at a public high school.
I was a Corp member in TFA and after my 2-year commitment I decided to stay in the classroom. It was not TFA that led me to move to Compton, but my students. I was spending more time in Compton than where I was living at the time. I thought it would be more helpful if I lived down the street so I wouldn’t have to be driving late after games, or going back and forth from campus and home on days we were having events. I’m glad that I moved because it was more than a locational convenience, but taught me deeper lessons of what it means to be an educator and in the community with my students.
How has your background and past experiences led you to Girlspace Compton?
I did not create GirlSpace alone. There was a team of women that worked on this project. My background in youth development and education provided me with the passion to commit to such a big project. It was an honor to work alongside many strong women from the community, and make a vision come to life.
How does Girlspace Compton support young women within the community?
GirlSpace has three core values: unity, leadership and confidence. The programs we provide are GirlSpace Conference, Grant Giving, a Sisterhood Coalition. The conference engages young girls in a fun and memorable experience, where they can learn about who they are and their community. Asides from the conference, we are committed to working alongside community leaders in building local capacity and opening access to resources. When our women leaders have all they need to run their organizations and services, our girls are set in a community where they can have strong role models and thrive.
What is the most important thing you want the young women of Girlspace Compton to take away from the program?
We want young girls to feel beautiful, confident, and strong. They should feel accepted as girl or non-binary. They should not live under insecurities or doubt, but see their full potential everyday. We want our girls to know how to take care of their mind, body and soul, while giving back to their community through their purpose.
How does empowering young people enable them to make changes for themselves and future generations?
Young people are the future. So when we give them agency to be a part of the change, they put us forward. They think with their hearts and their hope in what is right. Oftentimes, they are not jaded and willing to talk things through, when given the platform. We need to include them in all of our conversations and have them actively engaged in the processes of change.
What are some of the ways we can help if we want to volunteer at Girlspace Compton?
We are still setting up our financial structures, but feel free to email us firstname.lastname@example.org for any donation/giving/volunteer opportunities.
How can we help support disenfranchised communities? What are some ways we can take action aside from monetary donations?
I do not like to use the word “disenfranchised,” because I believe in the power of our communities. Rather, the communities that have been historically marginalized by the system have organizations that are ready to be invested in. I would have to say that donations are priority. We should make it a practice of giving monthly. It could even be a pact between friends where everyone commits to $10/month. Asides from that, I know I myself am always looking for graphic designers, videographers, photographers to help create content and let the public understand and know the work of the organization. So providing those free services can be of GREAT use. Each organization is different, so it is important to tap in before anything.