In her own words: Why I'm back in City Heights

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.

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Officials Praise Student-Lead Halal Effort

Students, parents, and community members gathered at Crawford High School on June 10, 2015 to celebrate the success of integrating a Halal option for lunch. After two years of advocating and three months of testing the Halal Chicken Chili Lime Bowl pilot program, the students held their breath for the final verdict, waiting to see if the school district would continue to offer the lunch next year.

“There’s only one way to find out what the students will eat and that’s listening to the students tell you about the food they want to eat. So we hear you,” said Gary Petill, Director of Food and Nutritional Services at San Diego Unified School District. “We’re going to continue to work with you. We’re going to continue the Halal Chicken Drumsticks next year!”

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The Idea Behind the Chicken

For the 2015 school year, a chicken strutted up and down the campus of Crawford High School every Wednesday and Friday. Although the suit is funny, the idea behind the chicken is very serious: healthy school meals for every student.  

“We have the most diverse community in City Heights alone. Different people want different types of food,” said Gary Petill, Director of Food and Nutritional Services at San Diego Unified School District.

For many students in City Heights, school lunches may be the only nutrient-rich meal they eat all day, especially those whose families cannot afford to send them to school with a homemade lunch. With food options that some cultures cannot eat, many students go hungry, affecting their ability to focus in class and participate in afterschool activities.

“It seems reasonable,” said Petill, “I understand people want to preserve their culture.”

Through Mid-City CAN, students formed a Food Justice Momentum Team campaign to emphasize healthy and culturally appropriate foods in schools. Their solution: Halal chicken. Halal is an Islamic term that designates food – usually meat – and its preparation as permissible for Muslims to eat. Although this religious reference can make some uncomfortable, students want to let the community know that this campaign benefits everyone, regardless of religion or culture.

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Voice of San Diego writes about Mid-City CAN

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.”

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City Heights Stands Up to SANDAG, Demands Public Input on Tax Increase

At a rally on April 26, City Heights residents and members of the Quality of Life coalition called on the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to prioritize mass transit projects before it asks voters to support a raise in the county sales tax. The coalition represents more than 20 community-based, regional organizations and 150,000 San Diego residents.

Community leaders urged SANDAG to prioritize funding for projects that promote clean air, better transit, good jobs, and no-cost youth bus passes.

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Leaders Pledge to Fight for Youth Bus Passes

Tears streaming down her face, she looked out at the crowd. “We have a single income household. I have to choose between paying bills, buying groceries, and buying bus passes for my kids,” said Iliana Pacheco, mother of two high school students in City Heights. Her oldest son used the free Youth Opportunity Pass through Mid-City Community Advocacy Network in order to stay on the football, baseball, and track teams.

“If he didn’t have the bus pass, he wouldn’t be able to go to all of the practices and participate in school functions. My son even used the bus pass to go to his homecoming dance and ASB ball. It kept him off the streets, out of trouble, and home safe when I couldn’t get him after school,” said Pacheco. Unfortunately, Pacheco’s son lost his bus pass when his wallet was stolen, and he hasn’t been able to replace it. Now, he cannot go to practice.

This story was echoed by many people at the “Get on the Bus” meeting at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church on November 12. The idea was to raise awareness of the lack of transportation for students and ask leaders to pledge their help. Partners in this effort include: Mid-City CAN, Justice Overcoming Boundaries, The Cleveland National Forest Foundation, Youth Activists for Change, the MAAC Project, SEIU-USWW, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, the North Bay Organizing project, Genesis, Gameliel of California, the National Gameliel Network, Urban Habitat, Partnership for the Advancement of new Americans, Clairemont Lutheran Church, and Capital Region Organizing Project. These organizations gathered from around the county to hear these stories and give their support.

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School Discipline Called Into Question

School discipline recently grabbed national attention when a cell phone video surfaced showing a white male police officer shove a female student of color, flipping her over in her desk, then dragging the student across the classroom floor with considerable force.

“There is no justification whatsoever for treating a child like this,” said Victoria Middleton, Executive director for the South Carolina branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Regardless of the reason for the officer’s actions, such egregious use of force against young people who are sitting in their classrooms is outrageous. School should be a place to learn and grow, not a place to be brutalized.”

This issue was taken up multiple times at the 2015 Equity Summit in Los Angeles, leading to discussion on how effective punishment is in schools. Alan Obregon and Phuong Pham attended the summit with Mid City Community Advocacy Network’s Peace Promotion Momentum Team. The two students attend Crawford Law Academy and are active advocates for Restorative Justice: an alternative to the current school justice system.

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Community Demands Restorative Justice in Schools

Students, teachers, staff, administrators, and concerned community members want to help speed up the slow implementation of Restorative Justice in San Diego schools. Members of Mid-City CAN's Peace Promotion Momentum Team (PPMT) made their case in front of the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) School Board meeting on May 24.

Team members requested that the community be allowed to view a draft of the Restorative Practices Implementation Plan the school district is currently writing. They want to be able to provide community feedback and input.

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Residents challenge criminal justice system

City Heights' residents shared their personal stories of struggle and triumph with a crowd of more than 400 decision makers on February 26 at the Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices Summit.  The day-long meeting is part of an ongoing effort by Mid-City Community Advocacy Network's Peace Promotion Momentum Team and its many partners to educate those involved in the criminal justice system on the movement of restorative justice.

"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.


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School district passes food justice resolution

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.


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