Soldier, Leader, Aspiring Attorney: Senior Nadia Lebron Receives VAI Rising Leader Award

Posted on: December 5, 2023
Nadia Lebron Voices Against injustice Rising Leader Award

SALEM (Dec. 5, 2023) – Salem High School senior Nadia Lebron received the Voices Against Injustice Rising Leader Award at the 2023 Voices Against Injustice Awards Ceremony Friday, Nov. 10 at the House of Seven Gables.

The VAI Rising Leader Award is presented annually to students committed to advancing the cause of human rights and social justice. Recipients receive a $500 scholarship and the gift of a book related to social justice.

“It wasn’t until I actually received the award in person that I realized how huge this award is,” said Ms. Lebron. “I felt a sense of accomplishment and relief. I always worry about making my mom proud and how I live on through my (late) dad’s spirit. When I learned the significance of the award, I knew I made both my parents proud.”

Ms. Lebron was honored at the ceremony alongside history educator and author Sam Mihara, who received the Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice. Mr. Mihara and his family were incarcerated at the Heart Mountain prison camp in Wyoming during World War II.

As a junior, Ms. Lebron was instrumental in drafting a proposal and securing a $2,000 grant for a ‘Makeup Room,’ a room at SHS to which students could retreat to regain focus. While interning for Lori Marenda-Lang, a history teacher at SHS, she began interviewing and surveying fellow students about what help and resources they needed to overcome mental health challenges.

Ms. Lebron, along with several classmates drafted a proposal to create the Makeup Room, detailing the need and its benefits.

“Nadia is a smart, strong, powerful young lady who is driven by making positive change in her community,” said Ms. Marenda. “From day one in my History class her sophomore year,  she spoke out against all injustices such as racism, antisemitism, and gender issues whenever those topics came up in class discussions. 

“She always was the first one to speak up,” Ms. Marenda-Lang added. “Nadia has continued to speak up for those that are afraid to speak up about injustices in our community.”

Ms. Lebron, who is enrolled in three college classes at Salem State University, described her advocacy for the Makeup Room in a writing assignment for Maile Black, a professor of English at Salem State, who nominated her for the VAI honor.

While she had enough credits to graduate last June, Ms. Lebron opted to walk with the Class of 2024 to be among her friends and to take full advantage of SHS’s early college coursework through Salem State.

Along with splitting her time between the two schools, Ms. Lebron is the commanding officer and second lieutenant of the SHS Junior ROTC. She spent the summer of 2023 at Fort Leonard Wood (Missouri) completing basic training and will return next summer to complete training to become a military police officer.

Though yet to commit to a college, Ms. Lebron intends to study law and will enroll as a sophomore while adhering to her National Guard commitments one weekend each month. 

Ms. Lebron is seemingly omnipresent around the SHS campus. Along with the JROTC, she is a volunteer with three Unified sports teams at SHS – basketball, track and field and strength and conditioning – while also competing with the wrestling team. She finished in sixth place in her weight class last year at the MIAA state tournament.

Ms. Lebron was also a member of the volleyball team from her freshman through her junior years, but missed the 2023 season due to her commitments with her Army/National Guard basic training. She is also a member of the SHS Model UN and formerly the Student Voice Project her sophomore and junior years.

An established campus mentor, Ms. Lebron is involved with Witch Mix, mentoring students with disabilities; as well as the SHS Mentors Program, in which she helps first-year SHS students making the transition to high school.

Ms. Lebron is the 11th recipient from Salem High School or Salem Prep High School since the award was founded in 2014. She is one of five children of Eneida Echevarria, a building substitute teacher at the Collins Middle School, and the late Nathaniel Lebron.

VAI, formerly the Salem Award Foundation for Human Rights and Social Justice, promotes awareness of social injustice issues; recognizes and celebrates individuals and organizations who work to confront fear and social injustice with courage; and creates programs and events that help foster tolerance, understanding and reconciliation within the community.

About Salem Public Schools

Salem Public Schools is an urban public school district in Salem, Massachusetts. Salem is a small, diverse city with a proud maritime and immigrant history. Our leaders and our teachers are all passionate about education and understand the urgency of improving student achievement with equity and social-emotional needs as the lens we view all of our work through. We respect and value the racial, cultural, and linguistic diversity of our students and their families, and have a strong commitment to the Salem community. Salem Public Schools staff serve all of our students, regardless of ability or language. Salem Public Schools enrolls approximately 4,000 students across its eleven schools.