Sophomore feminist makes waves at Women’s March
The Santa Clara
January 25, 2018
Sporting a Santa Clara hat and a shirt that says “The Future is Female,” sophomore ASG Senator Helen Kassa left the stage of the San Jose’s Women’s March with the crowd erupting in cheers.
Last Saturday, Kassa imparted words of advice and empowerment to attendees of San Jose’s Women’s March, a movement prompted by last year’s presidential election.
The march advocates on behalf of environmental justice, reproductive rights, civic engagement among marginalized groups and economic disparity.
As a delegate of the United Nations Paris Climate Talks, the former youth President of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) and a founder of non-profit organization focused on education in Ethiopia, Helen Kassa has proven herself to be a fierce activist and worthy speaker.
In addressing the crowd, Kassa assured them that they too are capable of emerging as leaders.
“I’m not special. I wasn’t granted or born with any fancy tools or an endless supply of resources,” Kassa said. “The secret is to let your obstacles, pains and insecurities fuel you to lead. So don’t be scared to lead or fight because the only tools that you need are your ambitions, passions and fellow strong, nasty women.”
Kassa’s drive for social justice and selfconfidence stems from her trip to Ethiopia, her parents’ native country, at eight years old.
Prior to the visit, Kassa felt embarrassed of her cultural roots as the only black student of her K-8 school.
“Growing up I was conditioned by the world to feel shame for my hair, my skin, ‘my exotic foods’ and my Ethiopian heritage,” Kassa said. “It was this pain and misunderstanding that things like skin color or gender dictated my value in this world. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to travel to my country’s homeland of Ethiopia that I found not only my self-esteem but my passions as well.”
During her visit, Kassa noticed that young children were working rather than attending school.
The lack of access to education prompted her to start a nonprofit, Giving Hope to Kids Like Me.
“I was seeing my people suffering and that lit my internal flame … I decided I wanted to make a change so I did what was necessary and fundraised like crazy,” Kassa said. “I adopted a school in rural Ethiopia, donated school supplies for over 1200 students, started a merit based scholarship program to increase competition and motivate academic excellence.”
Eager to promote education in the Bay Area, Kassa volunteered with the Silicon Valley Education Foundation where she worked with predominantly students of color.
She discovered that some were not expected to receive a higher education, something valued by her family.
Kassa began to develop her local network as she worked with the NAACP.
She started off as a Secretary and worked her way to the Education Chair of NAACP California and Hawaii Youth and College Division. She said she enjoyed initiating tangible changes on the local level.
After the killing of Michael Brown, Kassa coordinated a peaceful march in San Jose attended by over 300 people.
As a veteran ASG Senator, Kassa is currently working with ASG Vice President Sam Perez and At-Large Senator Rahaima Choudhry to revise student handbook policy on verbal harassment and bias incidents. According to Kassa, the current guidelines are “ambiguous.”
Kassa is also developing an initiative to provide free public transportation for students through eco-passes to increase public transportation ridership within the community.
She not only wants to promote sustainability, but alleviate the stresses of commuters and students with less financial resources.
Her interest in sustainability stems from her participation in the 2015 United Nations Paris Climate Talks with the NAACP.
At the event, Kassa participated in human right tribunals where she shared stories about environmental injustices affecting people of color and those of the working class.
Despite only being a sophomore, Kassa expressed enthusiasm over her future plans. As a political science major, she is considering pursuing law or becoming a project management director.
Having done previous research experience on gender inequality at Stanford University, research is also a potential career path for Kassa.
Contact Bella Rios at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.