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By Katina Castillo Summer has officially come to its end and students in Oakland Unified School District are already back in the rhythm of a new fall semester. The Planting Justice Education Team met several times during July and August to discuss what school site programming worked last year and what needed a fresh approach so that we too could put our best foot forward in the new season.

We have two new Educators hired within the last six months, a Program Director soon going out on maternity leave, and staff from the Transform Your Yard and Canvas teams with a passionate interest to work with young people that we try to create opportunities for as often as possible. And then there’s the inevitable OUSD teacher turnover that tends to diminish or erase community partnerships developed by those good teachers when they leave. So we mapped out the schools we have existing relationships with as well as our new capacity as staff and the schedule we coordinate to be able to work in correctional facilities as well as public schools on a weekly and monthly basis. There’s lots of pieces to the puzzle but we’ve managed to work out a really sweet routine that includes Fremont, McClymonds and Oakland Technical High Schools in Oakland.

At Fremont High School, we have partnered with Freddy Gutierrez of Unity Council who is the site mentor for The Latino Men and Boys Program which provides comprehensive educational and academic support, mentorship, health and wellness programs, career development, and culturally based activities for young Latino males ages 6-25 years old who live in Oakland. They aim to develop a network of support for young Latinos and their families to improve and succeed in several important areas including educational engagement and attainment, employment opportunities, access to health care and healthy activities, as well as reducing violence through positive connectivity. Since starting in 2010, they now work in 5 middle schools and high schools in Oakland: United for Success Academy middle school, ARISE High School, Skyline High School, Fremont High School, and Castlemont High School. The goal is to increase high school graduation and career options for Latinos in Oakland by connecting them to positive male role models and culturally relevant programs that improve their well-being and their opportunities to succeed.

Our first day in their class we introduced ourselves and shared a bit about our passions for justice and why we work to promote healthy food and land access. The young men ranging in age from 14 to 18 were keeping up side conversations and texting at first but we quickly got their attention. When Anthony Forrest, our Jack of All Trades, Canvas fundraising extraordinaire, school garden water manager and part-time Educator shared that he had served 25 years in state penitentiaries they realized we weren’t any typical organization offering an afterschool program. We immediately offered up our vulnerable truths about the pain we had felt and seen in our communities inspiring us to struggle for a better tomorrow for all of us, through healing, self-empowerment and community building. These are concepts and principles they had already become familiar with through the teachings of the La Cultura Cura Joven Noble curriculum that provides the core framework for their program. Since then, we show a mutual respect and familiarity with each other.

We now go to their class two Fridays a month and have already made a mean pico de gallo together while sharing facts about pesticides and the benefits of organic tomatoes which grow in the school garden Planting Justice built there in 2010, as well as deliciously nutritious DIY vitamin waters that serve as an act of protest to the toxic and inhumane practices of the Coca Cola Company. Next class we’ll be making smoothies and discussing the food system and how our ingredients would have run the gamut from production to distribution. And they promised to bring back the mason jars we gave them for reuse :)

GO TIGERS! Go Latino Men and Boys! Palabra.

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