My time with Fathers and Families of San Joaquin has brought me to places I’d never imagine. From the community garden in South Stockton where we planted trees for lives lost to gun violence, to school auditoriums where I help to guide young men like me, and then on August 11, to the stage of the Youth Power to the Polls superintendent candidate forum.
I was selected as one of six young people from across the state to ask questions to the two candidates for California Superintendent of Public Instruction, Marshall Tuck and Tony Thurmond.
The event was a part of the four-day Youth Power Summit in Davis, Calif. It was beautiful to see hundreds of different young people coming together to advocate for change in their communities. I had never been in a space like that before and I was honored to represent this diverse group of activists and my hometown of Stockton.
At the Youth Power Summit, we learned that youth voices and the youth vote matter. It’s up to us to make sure politicians know what our communities need. It was important to me to ask questions about the future of education in our state because my time in school was not easy and I know our schools can do better for young people like me.
As I told the candidates that Saturday, I can’t remember my first experience with violence because I tried to block it out. At the age of 12, I experienced my first drive-by shooting. From middle school on, I was always getting into fights and getting suspended. I had trouble concentrating in class and I couldn’t relate to my teachers at all. It seemed pointless, so I would just get frustrated and leave.
There was too much conflict at home and too much violence in my community. I couldn’t keep my mind off it. At the age of 17, I got shot on two separate occasions. In my neighborhood, it was hunt or be hunted. How could I care about school when the world was so full of hate?
Every day, I continue to see how trauma impacts young men in my community like my nephews and neighbors. They’re causing trouble for a reason, but they can’t find the help they need. Why can’t we address this issue and help them focus in school?
That’s why I asked the candidates, “What is your view on healing-centered approaches to schools? How do you plan to address students’ individual and collective trauma?”
I was very glad to hear Tony Thurmond say, “I will provide more money for our schools and provide school based health resources to support our students who’ve been impacted by trauma.”
Marshall Tuck also showed support for healing-centered approaches saying, “It can’t be isolated, where you have counselors or mental health workers, where it’s their job. It’s got to be the collective responsibility of our schools to address not just the academic needs, but the social and emotional needs.”
Whoever is elected, I hope they will keep their word and follow through for the young people in my community and across California. In school, it is important for young people to set and meet educational goals, but we can’t ignore the social and emotional problems that make those goals hard to meet. We need a healing-centered approach in schools to help young people like me succeed.
When I was in school, I never spoke to a counselor and I didn’t know about healing. I first learned about circling up and expressing my feelings after coming to Fathers and Families in San Joaquin. I was diverted to their program after I was arrested and it completely changed my life.
The first time I sat in a healing circle, I was hurting and angry. Even though I was with strangers, I opened up and broke into tears. We talked about our shared experiences and I realized I didn’t have to keep my guard up with them. These people understood what I was going through and that helped me to trust them right away.
Once I learned about trauma, it made so much sense to me. Of course my experiences with violence had a lasting impact on me and my behavior. Through trauma-centered healing, I learned to forgive, love, and not have hate in my heart. I used to be so angry, but I have learned to see and appreciate all the people who care. If I had learned this approach in school, I would have avoided a lot of fights, conflicts with teachers, and suspensions.
Today, I am a good role model for young men who aren’t much younger than me. They can see the way I’ve changed and the difference in how I carry myself. I think they are inspired because they know that if I can change, they can too. As a father, I am stopping the generational violence in my family for my son and generations to come.
At Fathers and Families, we are working with the district to create healing centered schools and heal not just the students, but their families too. I hope that the candidates will support our work to make a better Stockton and a better California.