The grass really IS greener on the north side of Fresno. Parks and school campuses are open and inviting, unfettered by chain-link fences. There are public pools, tantalizing in scorching Fresno heat. Sidewalks are clean and smooth, bordering houses with sprawling lawns, cafes, restaurants, and stores with sparkling windows. Landscaped bike paths lead from this side of Fresno to Clovis, another affluent community, protecting cyclists from traffic. People of all ages are cheerfully taking advantage of these amenities, jogging, strolling, walking dogs, pushing strollers.
These sights came as a shock to YLI’s Boys and Men of Color (BMoC). They had been meeting since April to discuss social justice issues in their communities, and participate in YLI’s leadership and advocacy trainings. The tour of Fresno, attended by 14 youth from BMoC and partnering organization, Women Empowered, brought these issues to life. Many of the youth live within a few miles of these neighborhoods, but had never visited them. They were quick to notice the stark contrast with the familiar sights of their own neighborhoods: the liquor stores and billboards advertising tobacco, alcohol and gambling; the potholes and broken sidewalks; the fences and the homeless. “They kept commenting on the bike path, ‘Wow, a walkway just for walking!’” said Program Coordinator, Mark Pizaña. “They don’t have anything like that in their neighborhoods.”
Following the tour, the youth participated in two workshops that that dove deeper into the disparities they had observed. Some were angry. The majority felt their eyes had been opened: “Many young people feel stuck: they don’t know how to approach these issues and feel little hope that things will change. You could see in the expression on their faces that the tour lit up a fire within them to fight for equity,” said Pizaña.
Next month, after reflecting on their community walk and other trainings, the youth will focus on selecting an issue they care about and begin building a campaign to address it. In the process, they will gain valuable skills: such as researching issue areas, public speaking, partnering with likeminded organizations, and presenting to city government. More importantly, this model YLI program will support BMoC youth to find their voices and recognize their power to make change in their communities and the world.
With much gratitude to The California Endowment for their generous support of this critical work.