Aaron Moreno, a 2008 Young People For fellow, is not your typical college student. Adopting his father’s values of working hard and working for the family, he got a job right out of high school. Now 26, Aaron works to combine his two passions: education and children. At Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona, Aaron draws on the life experiences of his fellow students, many of whom are parents, to empower students attending Arizona’s dismally underserved public schools, whose spending ranks 49th in the country. His Blueprint for Social Justice, Chessmates, aims to challenge students and keep them off the streets through games of chess in their local libraries. Aaron plans to transfer to the University of Tucson next year and finish his degree in political science before running for school board.
Location: Tucson, AZ, United States
- Issues Areas:
- Education Justice
Campus: Pima Community College - Tucson, AZ
Fellowship Class Year: 2008
- Fellow Groups:
- Front Line Leaders Academy
Blueprint: Chess Mates
Chess Mates granted children access to the game of Chess in their local libraries throughout the summer. Because Chess is a game that teaches patience, mathematics, and productive foresight, and increases brain power in children and adults, Chess Mates would effectively give children a productive outlet for the summer while also increasing their intellectual capacity and exposing them to their local libraries.
Featured Fellow Spotlight
What do you stand for?
I stand for equal opportunity and getting more people involved in the political process, in their local political scene. [In] community colleges, you have people who are trying to go back to school, people who are mothers and fathers who are trying to balance their lives with their children and work and trying to get an education. It’s important to put a lot of energy and effort there so that they have an equal opportunity to getting involved [in politics].
How did you become a fellow at YP4?
I made a Facebook page called “Students for Barack Obama,” [an organization that] a friend and I cofounded at the downtown community college campus. Immediately overnight, we had almost one hundred people join. We were very enthusiastic; we took people up to Nevada to participate in the caucus process. Rachel Burrows asked me to fill out the [YP4 fellowship] application and I did. Before I knew it, I was on a plane to D.C. [for the National Summit] to see what this organization is all about. It was all of a sudden. (laughs) What makes YP4 awesome is that when you try to do a community project or run for office, it doesn’t matter the circumstances, YP4 has some sort of experience with it or can hook you up with someone who has had a similar experience.
Tell us about your Blueprint.
The [Chessmates] program was initially started to provide kids ages seven to teen the opportunity to learn how to play the game of chess. This was an opportunity given to me when I was young in elementary school, but due to our budget situation, students [now] aren’t given the opportunity to start a club to learn how to play. The Blueprint was written to have chess players to work in the county libraries so that the students can come and play.
Many of the community centers, especially on the south side of Tucson, have been closing down in the past couple years. We just had one close two weeks ago and 45 new students showed up at our library at one specific branch. The Chessmates happen between 3 PM and 7 PM, the time most associated with crimes [committed by] children and teenagers. The importance is not only teaching kids the game of chess but also keeping them off the street and giving them something to do. Chess deals with a lot of faculties; it deals with math and [critical thinking], and patience is involved. So in the south side [Tucson] community, in those areas where class sizes are huge and mother and father are not necessarily at home because they’re working, this gives kids something to do, some kind of opportunity, the opportunity to play chess. They absolutely love it.
It must be sometimes challenging working with these kids.
I playing chess [with this kid] one day, and he told me he got expelled from school. It ended up that he had brought a knife to school because another kid had brought a gun to school. This kid is eleven years old and so when he was telling me that he was getting expelled, it frustrated me. [Despite] all the frustrations and calamities that this young man was dealing with in society, he was able to come and play chess. He was the star of the club. He made everyone laugh and always willing to learn, and it gives him a safe place to go, a place to grow in another way.
The most rewarding thing is seeing another student teaching his peers chess. That’s so empowering to teaching one how to teach. Eventually, I want to see Chessmates expanded to all the libraries in Tucson.
What are your future plans to get involved in the progressive movement?
I plan on running for office, running for the school board, and hopefully as a state representative for state congress. This is something I’m looking forward to. Whatever I want to do, I want to present myself and what I do in the most educated manner. I mentioned before that I’m older and still going to college, so I don’t know if that means I’ll run while in college or after college.
What advice would you give to a young person in your community who wants to make a difference?
Just to keep moving forward and doing the next great thing. Especially when you’re in the arena of politics, there is work to be done. Always be open to learn, always be teachable and open to new ideas. With that, if you keep doing the good work, everything will fall into place.