Our youth are back from camp with new connections, insight, and knowledge.
Located in 1,500 acres of beautiful Yellow Pine Forest, Grizzly Creek Ranch hosts the Boys and Men of Color Camp and Sisterhood Rising Leadership Retreat, where youth of color from all over California—participating in the Building Healthy Communities initiative—converge to engage in a week-long program of team building, advocacy, storytelling, and leadership skills.
“Every time I go to these things, I listen to what people have to say and try to feel what they feel; that’s how you learn, by putting yourself in other people’s shoes,” Victor explained that he shares this new wisdom from camp with his younger brothers.
Sisterhood Rising Leadership Retreat, the girls and women of color camp, is relatively new and is itself a manifestation of the youth’s search for equity and opportunities to develop as leaders.
Leslie Renteria, a former member of Mid-City CAN Youth Council, explains that several young women attended a lobbying event in Sacramento in 2013 and realized that they were among hundreds of boys and men who, before the lobbying event, had attended “camp where they are prepared for lobbying days and make sure that they are educated on what they are going to be speaking.”
Renteria explains that young women did not have this same opportunity.
Along with a group of young women from other Building Healthy Community sites, Renteria organized and worked with The California Endowment to launch a retreat for girls and women of color to provide women an opportunity to learn from mentors and from each other. “It’s more about a space where we are able to connect with other young ladies or young women who at some point have been through the same struggle,” highlighted Renteria.
Having and all-women’s and all-men’s space is important “because it isn’t the same approach that we take when talking to boys and men of color [as it is] with girls and women, especially because we wanted to include our LBTQ folks and our undocumented ladies,” said Renteria. “As much as it is learning and gaining more knowledge, it is also healing and making sure that they accept the conditions that they are in and learning to heal from that. It is very empowering to know that I could be in this awful situation but at the same time I can learn to heal from it and grow as a person,” she added.
“Telling my story is powerful and my story can help others and the way I’ve overcome certain things can help others,” Figueroa explained the power behind sharing one’s story and learning from others.
The Boys and Men of Color Camp and Sisterhood Rising Leadership Retreat—now in its third year after an initial pilot in 2014—continue to inspire and prepare youth to create positive in their communities and to heal and learn from each other.
On July 11, 2017, the San Diego Unified School District unanimously voted to adopt the School Climate Bill of Rights put forth by the Mid-City CAN Peace Promotion Momentum Team.
To afford all students the best possible opportunity to succeed academically and socially, the School Climate Bill of Rights seeks district-wide implementation of restorative programming principles and processes over traditional punitive discipline methods. This is a major shift from the current discipline policies that disproportionately result in suspensions, expulsions, and arrests of youth of color, more specifically, Latino, African-American, and youth of African origin.
According to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, “black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. On average, 5% of white students are suspended, compared to 16% of black students.”
"What you are doing here tonight is changing the future of schools in this community," said President of the school board, Richard Barrera, to the students involved in the creation of the bill of rights. In contrast with oppressive traditions and institutions like the incarceration system, Barrera added, schools are part of a tradition of “lifting people, opening up opportunity, and making us a more just community and a more just society.”
Too often, youth are funneled from schools to the prison system from an early age.
A preliminary report of the American Bar Association’s Joint Task Force on Reversing the School-to-Prison Pipeline addresses three major factors leading youth to the criminal justice system: the criminalization of school discipline, the increased presence of law enforcement officers in schools, and implicit bias in decision-making.
The School Climate Bill of Rights—a set of 6 essential rights for students, parents, and staff—addresses these three issues at SDUSD with an emphasis on comprehensive training and development, transparency, evaluation, as well as a Restorative Practices Advisory Committee made of students, parents/guardians, and educators.
The bill of rights comes at a pivotal time with the creation, earlier this month, of the school district’s Department of Restorative Practices.
School districts across California that have implemented restorative practices programming, such as Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have seen a decrease in suspension and expulsion rates. In San Diego some high schools, including Crawford, Lincoln, and Hoover have already implemented pilot programs and the School Climate Bill of Rights provides a platform for uniform implementation of restorative practices across the district.
Hilda Graciela Uriarte, Community Organizer with ACLU and member of the Peace Promotion Momentum Team commended the school district’s “commitment to practices that increase fairness, improve communication, and promote positive problem-solving mechanisms.” Uriarte also urged the board to allocate the necessary of funds to successfully become a restorative district.
"We hope in the future this commitment [to restorative practices] is solidified by budget choices that prioritize investments in these types of practices, counselors, and restorative justice strategies, and away from punitive measures," said Uriarte.
Additional Press Coverage
San Diego Unified Voting on School Climate Bill of Rights - NBC 7 San Diego
School Justice System Transformation has Support but Not the Funds - Voice of San Diego
Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?
This August, I returned to the space that motivated me for years as a young woman growing up in City Heights, and I was reminded that I am capable of transforming my community.
There were dozens of roses blooming in the Sisterhood Rising Retreat, growing and blossoming despite injustice in the air. I saw a young lady gain the courage to stand in front of her sisters and sing. I saw another young woman physically and morally support her team during the ropes course. I was in the same spot not too long ago.
This space was created for us to finally step out of the box that society puts us in, for these young women to acknowledge that they are not weeds because their skin color is a darker shade, and to learn not to be ashamed of the battle scars they all have from the constant struggle of oppression.Read more
Last October, Carol Kim was in a hit and run car accident. Instead of staying at the scene, she had a more important mission to accomplish: convincing the people of City Heights that their votes count.
“I am so convinced that your vote counts that I called someone to pick me up from my totaled car to come here,” said Kim.
Kim is the Vice President of Run Women Run, an organization that supports, recruits, and trains women candidates to run for public office. She was one of three panelists to stress the importance of voting at the Mid-City Community Advocacy Network City Heights Community Convening. The Convening, formerly known as the Grantee Retreat, focused on empowering residents and organizations to engage people in City Heights to register to vote.
“We deserve to be at the decision making table. We deserve to have our voices heard. We cannot be there if we are not showing up and casting our ballots,” said Kim. “We are not heard unless we vote. Civic engagement is great, but if your folks are not voting, it’s just noise. I hate to say it. As politicians it’s just noise unless you cast those ballots”
Mid-City Community Advocacy Network is proud and honored to have an old friend return home to experience her neighborhood through new eyes. Lesliee Renteria writes about this exciting season in her own words:
"As an undocumented woman of color in City Heights I was constantly reminded to live behind the shadows, to not speak up because it was not my right. I grew a fear to walk in the streets surrounded with poverty and violence. I feared that my voice will be shut down and I will be denied from opportunities like my home country did. However, my advocates were around the corner of my house.
I began my journey of change with the Mid-City Community Advocacy Network Youth Council. I felt a sense of belonging despite my residency status and ethnicity. I was told that I had a voice and it mattered. Being surrounded by young leaders became my safe place. The skatepark campaignb was my first step into the world of organizing and advocacy. I was introduced to the power of the people and the power of community through a collective effort. It took lobbying our elected officials, rallying in our community, speaking with Private and Public foundations and about 4 years to obtain land and funding to construct a community skatepark for young skaters to receive their safe place. Mid-City CAN allowed me to realize that I can be my own advocate.Read more
Earlier this year, the San Diego Unified school board applauded Mid-City CAN for its efforts to bring local and organic produce to local schools. Mid-City CAN has successfully pushed for schools to offer food that meets the various needs of students, such as those who desire halal foods.
In addition, Mid-City CAN has successfully advocated for free bus passes for students, and it’s hoping to expand the program county-wide.
As for Pruitt, the lessons she’s learned from working with the organization will guide her philanthropic and advocacy work going forward. “My experience working with Mid-City CAN has opened my eyes to the immense challenges faced by members of underserved populations and the institutional barriers that make it extremely difficult to overcome these challenges,” she says. “This has both opened my heart and changed my perspective on local government priorities.”
"Back in 2009 folks came together and they said there has to be something different because so many kids in City Heights are getting caught up in the system and want to heal; it's time to heal," said Diana Ross, Executive Director at Mid-City CAN.
The crowd went wild: hooting and hollering its way up the isles and out of the school board auditorium, leaving the room nearly empty so the meeting could continue while the celebration went full blast out in the lobby. Smiles and hugs were interrupted with songs and chants, the elation of a milestone reached after years of hard work.
“This is a huge step for inclusion, equality, and overall fairness,” said Amina Mohammed, Food Justice Momentum Team Member.