My CORO Story

Rebhi Oweis

rebhiCORO Exploring Leadership Program, San Leandro High School

I am a devoted son of Palestinian immigrants, Muslim, and a baseball player. Every Sunday, my mom and I run our family store while my dad goes to his other job. It’s my job to help my 11 year old brother with his homework to make sure he excels at school. I am a role model for him; but before stepping into CORO’s youth programs, I never considered myself one. I want to share my story of how I became a role model and how I am representing Palestinian Muslims in a way that defies stereotypes.

There’s a corner store near my house in San Leandro where I go to buy candy and snacks. Whenever I walk into the store alone, folks are friendly and kind. But I remember the first time I ever walked in with my mom. I could feel the stares and suspicion directed at us. I felt judged and ashamed. My mom wears a head scarf. I thought, “How could our own neighbors think we are dangerous?” I wanted to do or say something, but speaking out is especially hard for me. Most of my life, I’ve been painfully shy. I have a hard time looking people in the eyes, asking questions in class, and speaking in public. So when I learned about CORO, I was drawn to the idea that I would emerge more confident and with public speaking skills. What I didn’t expect is to become empowered to address ethnic stereotypes in my community.

I became an Exploring Leaders Youth fellow in the summer of 2012. One of the highlights was implementing our Community Action Project. Every year, youth fellows select an issue affecting their community and then develop a plan to increase awareness about it. We chose Going Green! I was amazed to learn that pollution is associated with growing cancer rates and that the Bay Area has one of the highest cancer rates in the country. As an aspiring pharmacist, I became passionate about sharing that information with my community. Once we developed a plan, we held a community town hall at the Berkeley’s Farmer’s Market to share what we had learned.

Through CORO, I learned that it is my responsibility to take a hard look at the issues around me. More importantly, I learned the skills needed to assess, address, and do something about them. And it made me want to do more.

So when I returned to San Leandro High School in the fall, I became a Coro Youth in Action facilitator. Being the only Palestinian at my high school, Coro gives me an opportunity to represent Palestinians in a positive light. Coro Youth in Action is an afterschool program that works with students to address the achievement gap.

Today, I have overcome my shyness, continue to play baseball, provide tutoring to my peers, facilitate Coro Youth in Action, and support my family’s store. Ever since I began to play baseball, my dream has always been to become the next shortstop for the San Francisco Giants. However, due to the fact that they don’t need my skills at the moment…they ARE the defending world champions …my career goal is to attend a UC, major in biochemistry, and become a pharmacist. To help me get there, I am maintaining a 3.8 GPA and taking AP classes.

I always knew that I wanted to be a leader in my family; someone who my siblings would look up to. Now, because of Coro, I’m also a leader at my school and in my community. I am helping to break down stereotypes about Muslims by learning and talking about the fears and assumptions people have about my culture. Because of Coro, I am able to reach across boundaries, ask the hard questions, and collaborate for change.