Youth who heal the streets

One of the most rewarding aspects of my work at the Ella Baker Center is supporting our different programs and campaigns. As the Director of Programs, I often assist events where I see our staff do what we do best: engage those directly wounded by social and economic injustice and invite them to build with us a vision of thriving communities.

Two weeks ago, I participated in a Heal the Streets workshop. The session was simply inspiring. Our Heal the Streets program enlists youth to participate in a year-long fellowship. The participants are a snapshot of Oakland: black, brown and immigrant young adults ages 15-18.  These young man and woman meet every week to learn about the roots of violence, obtain skills to become effective advocates, and find ways to bring these tools back to their neighborhoods. Heal the Streets is a program that believes in young people’s potential, ideas, brilliancy and love for their communities.

During the workshop I attended, the young fellows were eagerly discussing their views on power, the effects of firearms and the wounding that happens to young hearts when adults are too busy to pay attention to their basic needs.

Joshua Bloom, Heal the Streets Coordinator, played a song for them that stirred the deep discussion they were having. The lyrics of the song told the story of a gun that is passed from one killer’s hands to another. The gun says: “How you like me now? I go blaow…I might have taken your first child…scarred your life, crippled your style.”

After the song was played, Joshua asked the fellows for their reactions. They were not timid to express their views, and talked about how gun violence is sadly a vivid and close personal experience for them.  They know that firearms are present in their neighborhoods.  They talked about the symbolism of guns and power, and reflected on how power can be expressed in other ways like building one’s leadership for the good of others.

As I was seating there, listening to them and the depth of their analysis, I could not help but to think: “They got it right.” They know exactly what’s making their communities literally bleed to death, and most importantly they are asking the right questions that would help them think what can they do about it.

At the Ella Baker Center, we are committed to support their profound understanding of what’s happening in their communities and their desire to be part of the solution.  We believe in the multiplying effect of this program -- if every one of these fellows shares what they are learning with at least 10 other people by the end of their fellowship year, they would have impacted more than 100 people. They are hoping to go for more and do presentations in schools and organization in the spring of 2012.

In a state, like California, that puts young people of color behind bars without any hesitations, that reduces its investment in education and social services every year, that fails to recognize the immense resilience of marginalized communities, Heal the Streets is a vital urgent program. It provides a forum for young minds to congregate and understand the world around them. It gives them the opportunity to voice their brilliancy. It puts them on the forefront of what’s possible.

We are committed to these young leaders. They can’t afford to wait for politicians to make up their mind and invest in their future. They need each and every one of us, community members, to open doors for their young hands to build and in some cases rebuild broken dreams of justice.

You can support our Heal the Streets program in many ways: donating so that more fellows can be enlisted in the fellowship or partnering with us to have them present to your school or organization. Join us on the winning bet of investing in these young leading hearts. Learn more by emailing or on our website.