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Lorella Praeli: United We Dream Network

CHANGING HEARTS AND MINDS

A dynamic young leader in the immigration reform movement, Lorella Praeli first met ADL after she was bullied in school.

My first exposure to ADL was just after graduating from middle school in Connecticut. I’d gone through a really ugly experience with cyberbullying at a time when no one knew what to do about it, plus I had my own self-doubts about being a Latina with a disability. The training for ADL’s Names Can Really Hurt Us program taught me to respect myself and respect others. It was a safe space where I began to talk about diversity, and a reminder to cherish what’s different about yourself. It taught me to understand who the bully is and why they’re acting the way they do. And it gave me a model for changing hearts and minds: you do it by telling your story and by approaching others with an open mind.

All of that I’ve carried with me. In Connecticut, I led a public advocacy campaign for in-state tuition for undocumented students at state schools. I said, let’s go change people’s thinking, and started Connecticut Students for a Dream. We told people about the hardships of being undocumented and having to pay three times as much to go to college at a state school. The bill ended up passing.

On a national level, telling my story is helping change people’s minds about the status and aspirations of dreamers: students who were brought to this country as young children and want to succeed here. A few years ago, young people like this didn’t have much support. Now it’s politically unpopular to be against dreamers.

All of this started with my parents, who always said to me “you can.” But the support network and lessons from ADL pushed me one step further.

—Lorella Praeli, Director of Advocacy and Policy, United We Dream Network

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