Civil Rights Activist Sylvia Mendez to Speak at JJC April 17

Civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez, best known for her influential role in the Mendez vs. Westminster case in 1946, will be the keynote speaker during Joliet Junior College’s fourth annual Latin@ Student Empowerment Conference on Friday, April 17. The public is invited to sign up for this free talk, taking place at 11:30 a.m. on JJC’s Main Campus in the U-Auditorium, 1215 Houbolt Road in Joliet.

Civil Rights Activist Sylvia Mendez

Mendez, a Mexican American, was only eight years old when she was told she wasn’t allowed to attend a Los Angeles area public school because of her race – so Mendez’s father filed a court case to fight for his daughter’s right to an education.

After a trial that lasted two weeks, Mendez won the historic case that successfully ended segregation in California schools. Mendez vs. Westminster occurred eight years prior to Brown vs. Board of Education, a case in Topeka, Kansas that fought to put an end to segregation in schools nationally. Much of the evidence presented in Brown vs. Board of Education was taken from the Mendez vs. Westminster trial.

At nine years old, Mendez became one of the first Hispanic students to attend her Los Angeles elementary school. Later in life, she studied nursing, eventually becoming an Assistant Nursing Director at the Los Angeles University of Southern California Medical Center. In February 2011, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor.

Today, she spends her time speaking to students across the country about Mendez vs. Westminster, encouraging students to continue their education.

“Being able to hear Sylvia Mendez talk about how she helped form our country’s history is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” JJC Latino Student Support Specialist Martha Villegas Miranda said. “This will be a very inspirational event for our students and the community because it’s important to recognize the contributions of Latina/os in the civil rights movement and their struggles for access to education. We hope they’ll learn a lot not only about our history, but about why education is so important.”

The mission of JJC’s Latin@ Student Empowerment Conference is to do exactly what Mendez is encouraging – teach students to make good choices about their education, and show them the resources that could help them accomplish their educational goals.

To register for Mendez’s talk, contact Villegas Miranda at 815-280-2829 or e-mail her at For more information about the Latin@ Student Empowerment Conference, visit

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