As I looked at the sun rising over the mountain tops and the water glistening as the sun started to shine its rays upon its shores, it began to creating a sense of calmness and belonging that energized my soul; as a cool breeze blow all around me. This was how each day started for the Spread and Scale Convening hosted by the East Salinas Building Healthy Communities (BHC) initiative in Monterey, CA. The same beauty that welcomed us all to a new day was the same that so many native ancestors from the Costanoan tribe enjoyed until policies were created to forcefully remove people from their native lands.
People of color have lived through many injustices throughout the history of this country and at times we might struggle to open up and freely express our feelings because of the fear that has been built within us, that we aren’t good enough, qualified enough, intellectual enough. This convening was not intended to continue to perpetuate the same old stereotypes, but instead there was an emphasis to own our hurt. Civil rights activist and writer Audre Lorde stated, “when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”
“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”– Audre Lorde
As I sat and listened to the facilitator I remembered times that I would refrain from speaking at the fear that as a Latino/Chicano I would be looked at funny, questioned for stating my truth, and shrivel in my seat; as if I could shrink so that I would not be asked to answer or respond. Yet, when I would get home I’d feel ashamed for not having the courage to speak up. Race is a relatively new construct developed by this country to separate people, and policies written today continue to further drive the construction of race. We can no longer be afraid to share our struggle and ask for help, because others may be struggling with the same issues. For that I am very thankful that the East Salinas BHC not only hosted, but brought three other communities (Kern, San Diego, and Sacramento) that are part of the BHC initiative to share and speak about how policies and systems are being changed by tackling RACE head on.
First, as people of color (POC) we need to learn that our ideas are important and that we should not be tokenized by our government when we are engaged. On the contrary we need to rewrite how we expect to be engaged to change our community by having ownership of the process, so that we can foster democratic participation and equity through community-driven decision making, and bridging divides between community and government. Second, we need to capitalize on the flashpoints; a moment that impact our community to ignite a movement to overcome the barriers we are living. Like the killing of Stephon Clark by the Sacramento Police Department, which galvanized the community and ignited reforms within the police force. Lastly, we need to be able to communicate about race without being afraid of retaliation. This can be done if we A.C.T., Affirm, Counter, and Transform. We need to affirm what we have heard and explain why we are all in this together. Then we have to counter their beliefs with our lived experiences and facts around how POC are being impacted disproportionately. Finally, we end with transform. It is important that we reframe winners and losers because it is not them against us, it’s about all of us working together to create the changes that will help all of our communities thrive.
-Isai Palma, Project Assistant