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After School All Star participant Liliana Vazquez on learning to combat bullying

LilianVazquez says being After-School All-Star’s debate team helped her stup bullies. speak among her peers with more confidence.

Liliana Vazquez says being on the After-School All-Star’s debate team helped her stand up to bullies. speak among her peers with more confidence.

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Updated: October 18, 2013 2:26PM

I am currently an eighth-grader at Ariel Community Academy in Chicago and am the oldest of four siblings. Last year, whenever I’d see someone being bullied, I’d walk away because I didn’t want to be bullied as well. Once, I saw my friend being teased and harassed about her outfit because it was dirty from the day before. I walked away because I was scared I’d be next.

I remember going home and thinking, “What kind of friend am I? What can I do?” At that time, I rationalized my decision to myself, thinking that there really wasn’t anything that I could do but walk away. Back then, I was also very shy and nervous whenever I had to speak in front of people, which didn’t help.

For the past four years, I’ve been a participant in the After-School All-Stars program (ASAS), which provides free, daily afterschool programs to 81,000 low-income, urban youth. This past year, the program allowed me to realize that I do have a voice — and that it’s an influential one.

Before joining ASAS, I remember dreading oral presentations in school because I was scared of stuttering or forgetting my ideas. I would start swaying from side to side and avoid any eye contact with the audience. I would be overcome with fear of making mistakes that would lead to being bullied.

ASAS challenged me to step out of my comfort zone. Recently, I tried out for the debate team, which forced me to make speeches in front of people and stand up for my own opinion. Before my first tournament, I felt nervous and I didn’t want to go. But after we argued our side, my partner and I won, giving both of us a boost of encouragement. Ever since, I’ve felt more confident speaking up among my peers.

This year, I was nominated to serve as a national ambassador for the ASAS program in Chicago, and got the chance to go to Dallas for a weeklong leadership conference. During the training, every ambassador had to give a motivational speech. I was again overwhelmed with the idea of speaking in front of a large crowd of strangers. But as I stepped into the front of the classroom, I remembered that this was just like debate. I spoke loudly, clearly and made my points. After it all, I felt like I had already overcome my fear of speaking in public. All I needed was practice.

I now feel more encouraged and confident about helping my siblings take chances, asking questions, being open to making new friends and adapting to new environments. The program also made me realize that I have a responsibility to be a role model to my younger siblings and to stick up for my friends. Therefore, this year I refuse to walk away when anyone is being bullied — instead, I will be a positive influence and advocate in my environment.

ASAS celebrates Lights On Afterschool on Thursday with thousands of other organizations across the country, bringing awareness to the critical and beneficial role afterschool programs play in the healthy development of young people. For more info and to get involved with ASAS, visit

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