A few years ago, I ran into an old friend from childhood while I was home visiting family. I asked her and her partner: “What are y’all up to later?” She laughed and said, “Wait, did you just say . . . y’all?”

To her credit, I never would have used the word back when we were growing up in Southern California. But after almost 13 years between Kentucky, Texas, and Virginia, “y’all” has become a permanent fixture in my vocabulary and an illustration of my theory of change.

After completing high school in Louisville, Kentucky and graduating from the University of Virginia, I moved to Dallas, Texas where I taught first grade. I spent most of July 2017 decorating my soon-to-be classroom with UVA gear. During the first week of school, I talked to my first-grade students about what it meant to be a Wahoo and the kind of community we wanted to build as a classroom of Wahoos. I shared with them my love for Virginia and how much I missed Charlottesville. And then August 11th came.

Like everyone, I felt a multitude of emotions in the aftermath of the Unite the Right rally. I was sad and outraged to see a place I loved so much invaded with so much hate. I was fearful what this meant for the state of my country and the safety of my loved ones. I was nervous about what I would tell my 25 Black and brown students. We had just spent all that time grounding ourselves in the heart of our classroom culture that now felt bruised by the torch-lit footsteps of white supremacists.

When we came back to school on Monday, we had a long conversation about loving people who are different from us. We talked about how important it is to honor what makes each of us unique: the color of our skin, the faith we practice, to the languages we speak at home, the different ways our bodies and minds work. We committed to stick up for our friends if anyone tried to put them down for those special qualities. Later that day, each of my students wrote a loving message to their classmates on a strip of paper that we taped into a chain. It hung our classroom wall year-round to remind us how love defies hate, and how much stronger we are together than we are apart.

My decision to become a civil rights lawyer was an extension of my commitment to my students: a commitment to do my part in making the world a more equitable and loving place each day for everyone—for all, y’all. I’m sincerely honored to join the ACLU of Virginia as a Dunn Legal Fellow in pursuit of this mission. I graduated with my law degree from the University of Texas in May 2022. During law school, I had incredible opportunities to deepen my passions for criminal legal reform and voting rights work with the ACLU Disability Rights Program, the Department of Justice Disability Rights Section, and Disability Rights Texas. I also served as a student attorney with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid’s Housing Division and Texas Law’s special education pro bono projects. Though I may have started in education reform, I hope my work can make an impact in all systems of oppression that may affect my students today or in the future.

I’m excited to use my experiences in Texas to do my part in building a better Virginia for all. While we have a long way to go, I believe that the rest of the South could learn a lot from the progress the Commonwealth has already made. I’m eager to learn a lot in this new position and to meaningfully contribute to the ongoing work of the ACLU here. “Y’all” means “all,” and I’m thankful to be joining an organization dedicated to making that true for everyone.