Cal State Los Angeles students collaborated with an 11th grade history teacher at Mendez High School to develop history lesson plans on the 1945-47 Mendez v. Westminster desegregation court case. The lesson plans prepared the high school students to conduct oral history projects and write personal essays.

Education nonprofit 826LA collected the students' essays in a book entitled "We Are Alive When We Speak for Justice." It examines the legacy of the landmark case, including the 1968 East Los Angeles walkouts, exploring themes of ethnic identity and challenges still faced by the community of Boyle Heights.

The project gave students the freedom to share their experiences and observations. “I wanted to write something that came out of my heart. I made it perfect in my own way,” says student Kenia Garcia.

Students also gained skills directly applicable to college-level courses. “I feel I can go to any college I want because I am a published author,” wrote student Jaqueline Ramirez, who especially enjoyed her experience working on the editorial board.

Student Kenny Coronel says learning the foundation that sent him to a Chicano leadership conference last fall was named in honor of a teacher who participated in the 1968 walkouts really “opened my mind,” adding that working on the book fundamentally changed his self-image.