Commentary

Op-Ed: Becoming the Leaders We Want to Be

Op-Ed: Becoming the Leaders We Want to Be
Courtesy Perla Bustillos
“Look at our women. They are strong, you can feel it. They are the rocks on which we really build.” — Dolores Huerta

Throughout my education, I wondered where women, especially women of color, played a role in history. Upon entering Metropolitan State University of Denver, I had the opportunity to take a Chicano/a studies course that not only introduced me to Latinx history in the United States, but also to empowering Latina women, such as civil rights activist Dolores Huerta.

Through her story, I learned that women hold power in their stories and voices, but too often are silenced. It is up to us, as women, to create historical efforts that challenge the community to hear our voices.

As I continued my undergraduate degree and became the first in my family to earn a college degree, I battled firsthand being silenced and unseen.


My dream as a freshman was to become a computer scientist. The first class I took was full of males, including the professor, and I often was overlooked when trying to participate or ask for tutoring. I was discouraged, so I changed my major to a female-dominated field, event and meeting management. Even then, I was shut down by others who believed I was too young and opted out on giving me the opportunity to learn and grow.

During the summer of 2019, I partook in a focused design group that welcomed feedback from Denver Public Schools alumni on their high school experiences. I left the room feeling heard and seen. I walked out of the design group feeling transformed. At that moment, I knew my life philosophy was to commit to elevating the voices and stories of those who have lost it due to a lack of support, especially women of color.

I owe this transformation and realization to the hosts of those design groups, who are now known as Ednium: The Alumni Collective.

It was during this exposure with DPS alumni that I realized that creating connections made me feel more valuable; I felt like I found a place of belonging. The power of collaboration and connection at Ednium is beginning to show through the systematic changes we are trying to create. As a collective, we have agreed on a bigger vision: ensuring that every student leaves the public school system with the knowledge, skills and agency to define and achieve success. It all starts as an individual and accepting that bringing our stories together can create that change. I’m still navigating being “an adult,” but I know that I’m not alone, because I have my Ednium connections to support me.


Ednium taps into the experience of DPS alumni for insights on what was missing from their education and partners with them to develop ideas and initiatives to benefit students today.

Ednium has become the opportunity for me to develop my voice and represent women who historically have been marginalized. Programs run by Ednium, such as the Leadership Launchpad, are built to mobilize public-school alumni as a powerful force for change. Young women who are looking to find a community where common stories are shared and voices are elevated are encouraged to join us in this experience.

Applications for the leadership development program, known as the Leadership Launchpad, are now open through March 31, 2021; the requirements are as follows:

• Have attended a Denver Public School high school between 2008 and 2021
• Interest in and willingness to expand your leadership, advocacy, and communication skills
• Willingness to collaborate with others

As women, we hold the responsibility to build upon our strengths, voices, stories and history in order to become the rock for future generations of women, just as Dolores Huerta has done in her lifetime.

We can do it! Sí, se puede!

Perla Bustillos is co-founder and Engagement Manager at Ednium: The Alumni Collective. She graduated from DSST: Montview and received her Bachelor of Science in Event and Meeting Management at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Westword publishes op-eds and essays on matters of interest to the Denver community on weekends; the opinions in these pieces are those of the author, not Westword. Have one you'd like to submit? Send it to [email protected]
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.