Hello Outside World! Its me, Michelle…

Hello Outside World! Its me, Michelle. You know, Michelle Valdivia. Oh come on, its only been a few weeks, you couldn’t have forgotten about me that quickly. Or maybe you could have… but you didn’t… right? Anyway, since I know you’re all wondering what kind of crazy things I’ve been up to, here goes nothing.

Wait for it…

I have been out changing the world! Feeding orphans, saving babies from burning buildings, all that jazz! Nah, I’m just kidding Outside World! All in due time. Even though I’m not out saving babies or whatever, I am still working hard and trying to do some good here in Oakland, especially at my work site. I have been interning at an organization called First Place for Youth. First Place helps foster youth get a stable foundation and be self-sufficient after they age out of the foster system. My job, along with the 3 other BayUp interns, has been to create a GED program and information binder so that former foster youth can have readily accessible resources if they want to attain their GED. Although I expected to be working with youth a lot more this summer, the youth I have gotten a chance to interact with are so kind and full of joy, it has been a blessing to be a part of their lives and try to help them in their path to a GED.

Yesterday was an especially important day at First Place. Fridays at First Place always include a community lunch, where youth and staff eat lunch together and share community with one another. This Friday’s community lunch was a bit different, in that we all sat in a circle and shared our thoughts about the Trayvon Martin case. In light of the recent verdict, tensions in Oakland have been high. There were several protests the first couple of days after the verdict, and downtown Oakland was greatly affected. Although I do not live near the downtown area, I could still hear many police helicopters throughout the night. Several business were trashed and windows shattered during the protests by people who were not necessarily out there to have their opinions about the verdict heard. According to an Oakland native, the people who partook in the more violent aspects of the protests were not members of the community of Oakland. It just doesn’t make sense for people to destroy their own home.

During this week’s community lunch, youth at First Place had a chance to share their thoughts on the verdict, and their hope for change within the community. The conversation was very diverse, although there were several common elements. We talked about a lot about perceptions, especially the perception that society has of black men, especially black youth, and how usually the common stereotype is that young black men are trouble. We also discussed the many ways in which the media perpetuates this stereotype. A lot of the youth felt outraged that the media focuses so much on the murder of a black youth by a white male, but the media does not focus on the many young people who are victims of gun violence everyday in urban areas throughout the United States. One young man even asked the question, “if it had been a black man who shot Trayvon Martin, would there have still been all this hype over the case?”. The youth are very aware of the reality that race plays a large role in the perceptions of our youth and in what gets presented in the media.

Many of the youth shared personal stories of friends and family members who have been killed due to gun violence. Before Friday, I had never gotten the chance to really hear the youth’s stories, but this Friday I was truly blessed. All of the youth have been through so much struggle but they still express hope that things can change. Two young men talked about how they turned their lives around because they wanted to be positive role models to the youth in their communities. We all talked about ways in which we can enact change in society, but also ways in which we can change and improve ourselves. It starts with us and our communities, with changing people’s perceptions of black youth. It starts by leading through example, by providing spaces within the community to talk about the hard issues, the things we don’t always see in the media but the things that play a real role in our lives.

This Friday was a Friday of hope. Of change. It was a Friday of being a part of a community that I had never been a part of before. It was a Friday of asking hard questions and being forced to look at myself and see the ways that I carry preconceptions about people. Through all of it, I really saw the Holy Spirit moving in this community. I came in, a stranger among friends, and the people at First Place welcomed me and opened up their hearts to me. BayUp is not about a bunch of college students coming into Oakland to change everything and save everyone. That’s not what I set out to do. I came into BayUp knowing that there are already a lot of great people here, trying to enact change within their own communities and trying to empower themselves. I have been blessed to see the community of Oakland at work, and to be welcomed into it as a family member is welcomed at home. I thank God for the opportunity to be here, to learn and to grow as a new member of the community of Oakland.

So there it is Outside World. That is what I have been up to. Yep. BayUp 2013. This blog is obviously NOT comprehensive of the last 4 weeks but I felt compelled to write about this specific Friday because it is reflective of how hard some of the topics here at BayUp can be, but also of how rewarding it all is. So yeah. Since I don’t really know how to end a blog, I will leave you with a haiku that me and some of my BayUp friends came up with on the first day. It has sort of become our unofficial BayUp 2013 motto. So yeah, no big deal or anything. 🙂 Enjoy!

Community stands,
Seeking hope with one another
Believe in Oakland

(Believe in Oakland!)