In The Belly Of The Beast: Why I Organize

[dropcap]Highway 99 cuts[/dropcap] through “The Best Little City In The USA”, where I grew up. Where in 1911, the Industrial Workers of the World won one of their first Free Speech fights. In 1962, The National Farm Workers Association, now known as the United Farm Workers, was founded at a convention organized by Cesar Chavez here. In 1968, California State University Fresno was one of the first universities to have a Chicano Studies Program.

Where “Fresno, it really does suck here” t-shirts are proudly worn by both residents and visitors; the city that ranks in the top 10 for the “Dumbest City”, “Most Polluted City”, “Drunkest City”, and “City with the highest concentrated poverty” in the USA amongst other not so flattering categories. In the ‘belly of the beast’ it is hard to find peace of mind and hope if you are young, a person of color and broke. It is easier to find a liquor store and the newest drug. The ‘American Dream’ can be found here but you have to pass a dark alley to get to it. I witnessed this first hand with my parents.

As economic refugees from Mexico, my parents struggled like so many others so that my siblings and I would not. Risking their lives to slave at jobs that in turn put their lives at risk. Growing up I did not understand why my parents worked so hard for money and never seemed to have it. Monolingual, my parents got by with the help of my older brother until he was incarcerated. As a result, I became a non-certified interpreter for my parents around the age of 8. I was too young to realize that it was not a good thing when people would call my parents “wet-backs”. I was too young to know how to respond or interpret such discrimination my parents faced and continue to face. This society seemed to have a place for us out in the streets and inside schools.

[pullquote_right]In the ‘belly of the beast’ it is hard to find peace of mind and hope if you are young, a person of color and broke.[/pullquote_right]

The elementary, middle, and high school you attended said a lot about where you came from and where you were being pushed to go. The schools I went to lacked equitable funding, adequate resources, and qualified teachers. Everyone I knew was on the free and reduced food program, was in a gang or knew someone that was in a gang, and/or had a family member that was incarcerated. We could not articulate our deep hatred for cops but knew they were bad because they harassed friends, our family members and us. Not because we were doing bad things but because of who we were. Fortunately, my environment did not hold me down and I was able to move on and be the first in my immediate family to go to college.

Two thousand three was the year “I made it out of the hood” according to my best friend I grew up with. He said it jokingly but seriously because it was true. The majority of my friends did not go to college. Those that did went to the local community college and ended up dropping out within their first year. Some got locked up, some jumped from job to job. Products of their environment, none of my friends knew their A through G requirements and were given a ticket to the ‘Prison to School Pipeline’ instead of College. Yes I “made it” but found out that I was not prepared for “it”.

All the years I spent at low-performing schools seemed determined to bring me down while in college. I found myself not knowing stuff my professors assumed we all knew or were exposed to while in high school. A sense of hard work and determination developed quickly in me; a hereditary trait thanks to my parents.

All my experiences growing up in a low-income working class household, low-income communities of color, under-resourced schools made me who I am today and is the reason why I organize.

I organize because of what I went through with my family. I organize because of what I went through growing up in a city like Fresno with such a rich social justice history overshadowed by environmental racism, oppression and exploitation on all levels that continues to this day. I organize because it is necessary and not a choice. I organize because I see myself when I look at the faces of the children, the youth, the young adults, and the elders.

I fight to live.

The kNOw Youth Media
The kNOw works to support and equip young people with the journalism and advocacy skills they need to tell their stories and the stories of their communities.

In 2006, over 25 youth began participating in weekly after-school writing workshops where they congregated in the hallway of a two-story building in West Fresno and learned the essentials of creating media and telling their stories. The group evolved over the next five years and is now proudly recognized as The kNOw Youth Media.

Through our program, we create opportunities for our youth participants, who in turn create long-term positive change in their communities. Our approach weaves youth development and youth media innovation to produce our biannual youth publication, multimedia projects, and community forums.

The kNOw began as a project of New America Media, which was the country’s first and largest national collaboration and advocate of 2000 ethnic news organizations. In 2018 The kNOw became a project of Youth Leadership Institute.

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