Meet Amber Colón, aspiring journalist and mental health advocate

Jessica Peterson
October 13, 2016

"We love Amber," said Maria Hinojosa, anchor and producer of National Public Radio's "Latino USA" and DePaul faculty member, during her keynote address at the Dolores Huerta Celebration Breakfast on Oct. 5. Who is Amber, you ask? She is Amber Colón, the DePaul junior who provided the welcome at the breakfast.

A journalism major with a minor in Spanish and Latino media and communication, Colón is also a front desk assistant in the Center for Identity, Inclusion and Social Change, president of TEPEYAC - Latinxs Living Faith at DePaul and vice president of chapter programming for Latino Journalists of DePaul. Suresh Mudragada, associate director in the center, asked Colón to speak at the breakfast because of her work, as well as the various ways she is involved at DePaul.

Colón is passionate about her studies, pursuing a career in investigative journalism with a focus on Latino communities. She is also a strong advocate for mental health issues and selective mutism, a condition she, herself, has overcome.

"I don't identify as selectively mute anymore, but my social anxiety is still very real," Colón says.

Selective mutism is a person's ability to speak comfortably in some settings, but not at all in social settings because of social anxiety. "Even at the Huerta breakfast my legs were shaking uncontrollably because I was so nervous, but I've come to accept that this is who I am," she says.

The Huerta breakfast was not Colón's first public speaking experience. In October 2014, she was the keynote speaker at the Selective Mutism Group annual conference, and spoke to an audience of almost 400. Colón also took center stage as an advocate for mental health after she posted two YouTube videos about selective mutism, the first during 8th grade and a second one a few years later. The positive response to those videos was a bit of a surprise to her. She came to realize that people don't know much about selective mutism, and maybe this topic needed a champion.

"I want to be someone that others can look to for guidance and resources. I want to be a public figure that others can look up to and point to as a story of success," Colón says. Her blog, called Amber Speaks Now, spreads awareness and knowledge about selective mutism.

How did Colόn not only eventually find her voice, but also develop such a strong one? In addition to interacting with Latino staff at DePaul, she found comfort and support through her professor, Maria Hinojosa, who taught Colόn in two classes.

"Before I came to DePaul, I didn't even know that Latino people could be journalists," she says. "Coming to DePaul and seeing people like me who are journalists and doing great things was a real eye-opener. It helped me find my voice. I was taught to use my narrative for good, and shown that, yes, I can do that. And people will listen."