“Pa’lante,” Keep Moving Forward: Ezekiel Medina on Wellness, Culture, & Community

By Miranda Madrazo, HC Media Team Lead Social Media Developer

For Ezekiel Medina (’20, SAS/Bloustein/HC), the power of community is at the heart of all he’s experienced in college. A double major in public health and Latino and Caribbean studies, Ezekiel has fostered student wellness and cultural connections, all while promoting awareness of social justice issues with a focus on equitable healthcare and education systems for vulnerable populations. Recently named a Fulbright Scholar, Ezekiel will be an English teaching assistant at a university in Argentina after graduation.

With a sense of longing, Ezekiel can list many aspects of student life that he will miss: the diverse people, ideas, and opportunities; the constant chance to meet someone new; Voorhees Mall; and all of the little things that amount to the Rutgers college experience.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself, about my own personal limits, my own boundaries, my own capabilities. I've transformed and really stepped into who I am, what I stand for, and what I will be fighting for the rest of my life.”

From the beginning of Ezekiel’s time at the Honors College, his goal was to enhance student access to wellness and mental health resources. He was instrumental in forming the Honors College Student Wellness Committee, which created a Letters to Strangers chapter at the Honors College, co-hosts Bob Ross Nights to encourage creative study breaks, and holds topical ‘coffee breaks,’ alongside other programming that educates students and sparks discussion about the pillars of wellness.

As a H.O.P.E. Peer Mental Health Educator and Mentor in Residence in the Honors College residential community, Ezekiel has supported conversations about mental health among students and helped foster representation. As a Latinx student, he says, “We’re not traditionally seen to be in that role. It's important to have that kind of representation for the people who live in the building. That was beautiful to do as well.” Ezekiel notes, “When you're hearing positive responses from someone who is your age or looks like you, you feel more validated in your experience and you're also more receptive to some of the concepts or tools that we're sharing.”

As for Ezekiel’s own wellness practices, he enjoys meditation, journaling, and hiking. His favorite spots to hike are the Rutgers University Ecological Preserve, the Palisades, and Mt. Tammany.

“Wellness always starts within,” Ezekiel suggests. “I think that we have to take the pressure away from wellness a little bit. It doesn’t have to be something flashy, tangible, or for social media. It just has to be something that brings you some sort of peace or joy. The first step is honoring that you deserve that kind of peace in a way that’s not so complex.”

Within the Latinx community on campus, Ezekiel has done a lot to bring cultural wellness into a routinely social and personal practice. He contributed to the revival of the Rutgers Union Estudiantil Puertorriqueña, or Rutgers Puerto Rican Student Union, the oldest Latinx student organization on campus, formed in 1959. With the Center for Latino Arts and Culture (CLAC), Ezekiel went on an alternative spring break to the Dominican Republic, where he worked alongside other students with nonprofit groups and university professors to learn about the colonial legacies in the country. He later became a student leader in CLAC, where he participated in various student retreats, and last fall he was the organizer of a weekend retreat for Latinx students called Manifestaciones.

Ezekiel reflected on his friendships and mentorships through CLAC. Cultural wellness, he says, is “especially a thing for students of color. We leave our homes where there are particular customs we practice to come to college where everyone is from so many different places. It’s truly a beautiful thing, but cultural wellness is finding the balance of being immersed in other cultures but also connected to your own.” CLAC was integral to Ezekiel’s connection to his own identity as an Afro-Latinx and feeling a part of this student cultural community. He says, “I love to partake in a cultural thing a day. Whether it's making an ethnic food dish or following some cultural path, I like to do that at least once a day.”

Ezekiel also reflected on those who raised him. His mother, aunt, and grandmother are the three women who inspire him the most, having empowered him to grow and move forward. From his grandmother who worked at a Rutgers dining hall and cousins who worked in Rutgers landscaping and cleaning facilities, Ezekiel gathers inspiration and strength as he nears graduation: “People come to this country and raise their kids so that we can get to this point. Being aware of that is daunting, but it’s also inspiring to always fight and never stop lifting people up… ‘Pa'lante’ means to go ahead or to go forward. That is something I truly live by.”

“Pa’lante” carries a sense of hope and vitality, which is relevant to the struggles for equity that underrepresented communities face, but also offers perspective on how to approach the fleeting years of college, particularly during the pandemic. “I'm finishing my academic career in the midst of a pandemic and we know in public health that we are due for other pandemics. It is interesting to see how collectively we go about moving forward.”

Ultimately for Ezekiel, college years, and life in general, are best lived moment by moment.

“Cherish your time here and use your college years to do everything. Everything. This is the time of your life to make all the mistakes and all the good choices. I want everyone to really seize the moment every day.”