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ACTS co-founder leaves legacy of social justice and an army of allies at York College

May 21, 2019
Jalen Lee sits on a couch in the Center for Community Engagement.

Jalen Lee ’19 (Reisterstown, MD) knows what discrimination feels like.

He’s been the one African American kid who’s stopped and questioned while a whole group of Caucasian kids are allowed to pass.

It’s an awful feeling, one that he doesn’t want anyone else to have to experience.

It’s why he works tirelessly to be an ally and to give others the tools to become allies, advocates, and vessels for change.

ACTS

The idea was sparked during a Multicultural Psychology class at York College. In it, Jalen and his classmates explored race, gender, and sexual orientation and how those facets of a person affect how one sees the world and how the world sees them.

It opened his eyes and that of his classmate, Shannon Jones.

“At the end of it there was still so much we wanted to say and explore,” he says, “so we ended up forming a club about it.”

They named it ACTS, which stands for Allies Committed to Social Justice.

Their mission is to be allies first — to be there for people who are marginalized, to stand up and stand with them, to educate others on how to become allies, and to effect change in their community. 

It’s a tall order, but in the year and a half since they formed, they’ve already seen growth and experienced support from the York College community.

They’ve put on a workshop on implicit bias, coordinated with the YWCA leadership committee, and they host an annual “Fact Check” event where students and experts do a deep dive and separate fact from fiction on a specific topic. 

More than just a name

For Jalen, it’s not enough just to not personally discriminate against others. Inaction, going with the flow — that’s what contributes to the problem.

To be an ally, you have to work against the current.

“I understand the consequences of it if no one does act,” he says.

A big part of that is giving people the skills they need to educate others to become allies themselves. 

“We’re really dedicated to making this community and the greater York community a more accepting and tolerant place,” he says.

The club sponsors student presentations, where members share their experiences for others to learn from. Jalen understands what it’s like to be a diverse student, but he doesn’t know what it’s like to be transgender, an immigrant, or a woman. These presentations allow him and his peers to better understand those experiences so that they can become better allies.

“I end up walking away from every meeting feeling so enlightened, so knowledgeable, and ready to make a change,” he says.

Leaving a legacy

Jalen graduates in May, but he’s not worried about what will happen to ACTS when he does.

“I know it’s in good hands,” he says.

If anything, he thinks the students coming up behind him will be able to accomplish even more than he has.

As for his future, that’s up in the air. In the fall, he’ll begin the next step in his educational journey, pursing his masters in negotiation and conflict management.

Then, who knows?

“No matter where I end up,” he says, “I want to be in a position where I can influence and make decisions that will better humanity.”

As he prepares to leave York College, he’s already started that betterment with the creation of ACTS.

“The legacy that I feel like I’m leaving,” he says, “it’s a good one.”

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