A Teenage Voice Growing Into Leadership: Terk Johnson

Tervell Johnson, or Terk, has slowly built a legacy at Civicorps. With high school graduation approaching in June, Terk has a few more objectives to knock out of his portfolio before he can get to the finish line. But he has already built an impressive resume during his time at the Corps.

With recognition awards at the Academy ranging from Hardest Hitter in Life Skills to Most Improved in English Composition, Terk is no stranger to the spotlight.

He is also Co-Chair of the Civicorps Community Council and runs the meetings with staff member Matt Walker. As Co-Chair, Terk represents the voice of the Corpsmembers for the Council.

The Community Council provides a forum for the Civicorps community, made up of both staff and Corpsmembers, to provide input to the leadership team.

With its first meeting starting in January, the Community Council has its sights first set on fostering community building amidst the pandemic and providing resources to incoming Corpsmembers.

“For me, it felt like an opportunity to try something new,” explains Terk. “As Co-Chair, I’m learning how to take notes, how to run a meeting with adults in a professional environment—I’m still a teenager.”

Teenager he may be but Terk is comfortable in leadership positions. At the Job Training Center, Terk normally works with the East Bay Municipal Utility District under JTC Supervisor Jeff Chilcott’s C-2. Terk regularly mentors newly-trained Conservation Interns, or redhats. Often times when using power tools, Terk likes to demonstrate before giving them a go at it.

“I like to have them focus on what they’re doing, then give pointers or tips after.”

Terk is both enrolled in the Academy and the Job Training Center, urged to join by family members, but his journey with Civicorps actually started at a much earlier age.

In addition to serving young adults, Civicorps Academy used to have an elementary school, a K-5 charter school in north Oakland. There, among the young students in attendance, was Terk.

With art integration as a part of the primary school’s focus, it’s no wonder that Terk’s recollection of the school relates to the arts.

“I remember performing Jackson 5 songs auditioning for a talent show at Civicorps Elementary,” recalls Terk. “But I like to sing all genres.”

Music and all its genres is something Terk enjoys on the regular. On the walk from the JTC on Fifth Street over to the Administration building on Myrtle Street for this conversation, Terk mentions that he was listening to both R&B and country, among others.

When asked about graduation, Terk relays the general anxiety about not knowing what’s to come next. And yet, he looks forward to what’s to come with the arts still in mind.

“I was just discussing with my grandmother about going to college to study film: acting, directing, [or] producing.”

Terk is currently listening to:  

What would he like to focus on in the film industry?

Terk didn’t hesitate with his answer: Oakland.

“Most biographical movies, movies about other people, the majority of it is fake. I want to portray Oakland as a real place. What really goes down.”

With his work at the JTC and the Academy and participation in the Community Council, Terk has an active voice in the West Oakland community.

He knows what really goes down.

And we can’t wait for his voice to reach graduation and reverberate well beyond it.

Do you share our vision for a world where all youth have the education and resources needed for college and career success?
Join us! Add your name to our list here.

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Building a Climate Army: an Interview with Bob Doyle

Robert E. Doyle is a 43+ year veteran of the parks and natural resources field, currently serving as General Manager of the East Bay Regional Park District. Doyle has received numerous awards and recognition for his many decades of leadership in conservation, park policy advocacy, public health and public lands, climate action initiatives and industry innovations.

He also has the distinction of having served as a founding Board member of the East Bay Conservation Corps (now Civicorps).  In honor of his impending retirement from EBRPD, and to celebrate his role getting the East Bay Conservation Corps (EBCC) off the ground 37 years ago, we reached out to Bob.  We talked about the early days of EBCC, the important role of the Conservation Corps movement, and his insistence that to combat climate change, we need a climate army.  Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.  

 Learning about the early days

Tell us about your role in the founding of the East Bay Conservation Corps.

Bob Doyle: At the time, I was in charge of administration and growth of the trail system at East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD), including building trails with trial crews and new property clean-up.  I met (EBCC founder and CEO) Joanna Lennon through another local conservation corps, she told me she was creating a new one to serve West Contra Costa County and Oakland.  She had such a dynamic personality and she was very driven; she pulled together a powerful Board of practitioners and professionals.  At first, the Corps’ focus was on service projects and there wasn’t an educational component.  Towards the end of my tenure on the Board, Joanna’s focus became adding a GED program for people of color and from low income communities.  My role was on the contract side helping to connect with other organizations to hire Corpsmembers for projects at EBRPD.  As I moved up the ranks at EBRPD, I would always encourage others to keep the contract with EBCC.

What was the composition of the original Board?  What was your focus?

BD: The founding Board was a powerful group of people including Walnut Creek State Senator John Nejedly, Robbie Yohai (editor’s note: Robbie remains on the Board to this day), some lawyers, and notably, the National Park Director William Penn Mott.  He would fly home from DC to attend EBCC meetings, and my job was to pick him up at the Oakland Airport.  I was a sponge during those drives, and I learned so much about the national parks under the Reagan Administration; I was like a kid in a candy store listening to his stories! Bill Mott had such generosity of spirit, like a lot of parks people who are committed to service and youth.  It was exciting and altruistic to give our time to serve on the Board, as evidenced by Bill Mott’s attendance.

Everything that’s happening now in our discussions around environmental justice and equity was happening then with that Board and staff.  I enjoyed coming into the [EBCC] building to meet Corpsmembers and hear their stories about bringing home their first paychecks to their mom, meeting those who came from single parent households or had kids of their own.  Their stories were so emotionally compelling.  I was always extremely pleased to see young people of color having a positive experience at the Corps and then getting jobs at EBRPD.  We’ve had many over the years.  In my field, we are always looking at diversifying parks jobs so we can encourage a diversity of park goers who see themselves reflected in the staff.  In order to do that, there has to be a portal, and that’s what EBCC did and what Civicorps does.  All the local Corps are not only providing jobs, but opportunities for training, education and betterment for Corpsmembers as well as their families and community.

There is billions of dollars of work to be done in the state park system.  State parkland hasn’t had the investment it needs, for which Corps type work is perfectly suited. 

Civicorps has enjoyed a longtime partnership with EBRPD for our land conservation job training work.  How did the partnership come to be? 

BD: Recycling was uncommon in parks back then [early-to-mid 80’s].  Our early efforts were to work with the waste management companies to navigate how to do more recycling in parks.  EBCC developed some of the first efforts and provided recycling in the parks.  We started engaging the Corps in three pilot projects in the big heavy use parks, and then that spread to the Corps getting the contracts in other areas.  For example, the City of Hayward, the East Bay Municipal Utility District as well as CalTrans then took on EBCC for contract work.  The recycling program became a whole separate department and ultimately became almost equal to the land contracts department.

We are all keenly aware of the importance of fuels management.  Tell us about the work Corpsmembers do and how it fits into EBRPD’s planning for wildfire mitigation and prevention.

BD: Investment in land stewardship, fuels management and jobs are critical.  We need an army of young people!  Both the State of the California and the Federal government need to provide much more funding if we’re going to make a dent in wildfire mitigation.  In California, we have 100 years of the well-intentioned forest management philosophy “woodsman spare that tree,” and now we’re paying the price.  It is not sustainable to have an ever-growing fire season with only thinning and controlled burns for the forests. We should be investing in people working in forestry, folks who can work a huge variety of jobs on public lands.  The volume of land is overwhelming and the urban interface — cities encroaching on the forests — is only growing.  We need the education, the training and a variety of skills to get people working in forestry in addition to firefighting skills.

Governor Newsom just came out with a plan to invest more deeply in conservation – I applaud the plan, but it’s got to come with money to invest in people to do the work.  There is money for restoration and land acquisition but often not enough money for hiring.  There is billions of dollars of work to be done in the state park system.  State parkland hasn’t had the investment it needs, for which Corps type work is perfectly suited.  If we’re going to get serious about climate change we need a climate army and the California local conservation corps are perfectly positioned to step in.

Looking ahead to the future

If you were to design the ideal conservation career pathway for Corpsmembers with EBPRD and beyond, what would it look like?

BD: The National Park Service has a great program at the UC Merced campus where they secure summer jobs for students at parks like Yosemite and Sequoia.  It’s almost like a union journeyman-apprenticeship pathway.  To be successful, the students have to be interested and motivated, and have to see people like themselves onsite already so they feel welcome.  There are lots of jobs and it’s a priority for the parks that their workforce reflects the communities they serve.

What Civicorps is doing in terms of interviewing skills should help Corpsmembers get comfortable talking to people from all different backgrounds.  It’s important to have the ability to open up a dialogue with all folks, as is true in the world at large right now.  Employees have to have excellent communication skills to interact with many different types of people.  Civicorps is giving its participants a real boost by offering hard job training skills, and should continue to focus on teaching soft professional skills, too.

We understand you’re retiring from EBRPD in the near future. Congratulations!! How will you spend your time in the next phase of life? 

BD: I’m retiring at the end of this year! Unfortunately, I may not be able to have a big in-person party.

I’m planning to spend my time hiking and camping; it’s time for me to enjoy the fruits of my labor and spend time with my family.  I’ll do some consulting too – and I’ll always engage in advocacy.

Speaking of advocacy, what parting words of advice would you like to share?

If we truly are committed to environmental justice and attracting more people of color to parks, we need to provide well maintained, safe and accessible parks.  Civicorps can be a big part of that.

Now is the time to really push for funding and jobs to combat climate change. We have the tools to do that on public lands but we need to scale up dramatically and provide the training and education as part of that.

Civicorps is a great example of successful community based environmental justice.  There will always be challenges both environmental, social and economic, but the path Civicorps is on is the right one for a brighter, more equitable future.

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Thoughts on Justice for our Black Communities

by Tessa Nicholas, Executive Director

In solidarity, we want to add our voice to the many speaking out against police brutality and the systemic oppression impacting our communities of color. As we all deal with the reality of yet another Black man (#GeorgeFloyd) and woman (#BreonnaTaylor) being killed at the hands of police we all must take pause. We must all recognize the injustice and the long history of racism that creates the current dynamics and makes it nearly impossible for Black communities to navigate their daily lives, let alone achieve their dreams. There is power in acknowledging the work that needs to be done at all levels to address the inequity around us.

At Civicorps, we are committed to our mission of uplifting young people and providing them with the skills and networks needed to reach their college and career goals. We provide the safe place and holistic services to help youth heal from trauma, build upon their positive assets and resilience, and pursue to their dreams. Our work is rooted in the belief that education and workforce development are powerful tools to promote racial and economic equity. Therefore, we are also committed to looking at our internal processes and culture in order to move the dial on diversity, equity, and inclusion, while creating space for our staff to educate themselves so that we can work both inter- and intra-personally to combat racism and racist practices.

It is my hope that our partners, funders, friends, and family will join with us to speak out against injustice and continue to find ways to support and protect communities in need. The journey toward equity is not easy or quick, we must be ready to take big and uncomfortable steps forward. I know that together we can achieve great things, and that all of us will benefit as our communities of color are provided the resources, opportunities, and safety they have been deprived of for far too long.

To our Black partners and colleagues, we see you, we hear you, and your lives and dreams matter.

Some useful resources:

California Education leaders speak out against racism

5 Ways to Show Up for Racial Justice Today

President Barack Obama on How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change

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Going with the flow: a field trip

A guest blog by Katy Avila, Research, Health/Wellness Teacher/Curriculum Specialist at Civicorps

Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. It was our last day of the term and we planned a field trip for our Health & Wellness class to the Tilden Little Farm to spend some time in nature and feed the animals. In our class we learned that getting outside and connecting with the natural world is good for our health.

We left the school around 9am, and drove 20 minutes from downtown Oakland to the Tilden Little Farm. Julissa was our navigator and DJ for the car ride. We drove on windy roads deeper and deeper into the hills, where the forest grew thick with trees all around us. We were all having a great time until we pulled up to the parking lot and saw a big sign with blinking lights that said: “PARK IS CLOSED; FIRE DANGER.

Suddenly we had a dilemma: what are we going to do with our time now?

Without a plan, we drove through the Oakland Hills. It hardly looked like Oakland at all anymore. We reached roads that gave us a glimpse of the flat, golden plains beyond the hills into Contra Costa County. We reached peaks so high that we had to pull over to witness the amazing view of the bay (and have a mini-Instagram photo shoot in front of it). Then, with the skyline of the city in the distance, we knew what to do next; we would drive all the way into San Francisco.

We sat in the inevitable traffic on the Bay Bridge and found ourselves at Fisherman’s Wharf. It was hotter on this side of the bay, and we walked in the sunshine through shops that sell seashells and props for magic tricks. We ate cookies and then saw a sign for Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze. Curiosity piqued, we walked up the stairs to find ourselves at the entrance of a neon colored room booming with loud music. We all looked at each other and said, “Let’s do it!”

The maze was disorienting. We ran into mirrors and stayed close to one another so we wouldn’t get lost. We took pictures inside the maze, and had so much fun we went through it a second time. At one point we legitimately did not know how to get out and started to panic. With each other’s help we finally escaped, dizzy from all the wrong turns and bright lights. We took a quick walk down to Pier 39 to see the sea lions, and then it was time to head back to school.

As a teacher, I’m always thrilled to have new experiences with the students to get to know one another better. The Corpsmembers are often teaching me lessons without knowing it. This trip taught me how to be flexible, spontaneous and curious—and how to turn a disappointment into an exciting adventure.

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To participate or to really participate?

What is democratic participation and why is it important? That’s a question many of our students have when they see it listed on their graduation requirements. Simply put, it’s the participation in democracy. This graduation requirement permits Civicorps students to be actively and civically engaged in their community. Whether it’s speaking in front of City Council and/or being present in the audience, attending a town hall, and/or sitting in a Civicorps board meeting, they are engaged and involved in the decision making of policies that affects their community.

“I felt good standing up in front of City Council and talking about my goals from my start at Civicorps, to where I am now, and what is next to come.” – Kelvin Holmes, Corpsmember, Dec. 2019 Grad

Throughout the year, students have a multitude of opportunities to participate in democratic activities. Civicorps staff announce opportunities to complete this requirement at community meetings or are posted in our social media pages like Facebook and Twitter, #DemocraticParticipationOpportunity.

“We know that when people are civically engaged, when they understand what their rights are, when they understand that in a democracy you can challenge governments, you can challenge policymakers, and you can… actually shape and form future policy, I think it changes the perception that a lot of young people have about where power is.” Ilhan Omar, U.S. Representative

Kelvin Holmes shares his Civicorps journey to Oakland City Council ^

Enoc Peraza, Jesus Fernandez and Earnisha Thornton, Civicorps Dec. 2019 Grads; Tessa Nicholas, Executive Director; Rodney Dunn, Dean of Students, were among those who spoke to the Council for the City of Oakland on October 15, 2019 <

Photo Credit: Denisha DeLane

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Five Fabulous Interns, Eight Amazing Days at Yosemite Spike

by guest blogger Danny Swift, Job Training Supervisor

A week ago, five Conservation Interns – Avante, Joshanette, Isiah, Rosalinda, and Ta’ron – returned to the JTC mentally and physically exhausted, but above all, proud.

They had just returned from an 8-day “spike” with the California Conservation Corps
(CCC) in Stanislaus National Forest, an area just outside Yosemite that was ravaged by the 2013 Rim Fire.  The crew powered through 10 hour work days like absolute champs, starting with 6:00 AM wake up calls, hour-long PTs (physical training), and a deep drive into the wilderness where they cleared fallen trees to get our trucks through dirt roads, dug out tons of brush to preserve young seedlings, and downed huge trees to thin out overly dense parts of the forest. This work was no joke.  Alongside Corpsmembers, CCC reps from across the state and members from the Greater Valley Conservation Corps, our interns’ efforts were geared towards promoting and preserving the health of the forest.

In the short amount of time we were there, our crew members showed obvious improvements in their work ethic, teamwork, and leadership skills.  It was awesome to see firsthand their transformations as they worked with and learned from other Corpsmembers, Crew Leaders, Specialists and Supervisors from the CCC’s and GVCC.

Exploring Tuolumne Meadows and hiking Lembert Dome

So, What Was It Like?

I had the chance to ask the crew to talk about their experience with the Spike – whether that was a favorite part of the trip, something they learned, or anything that stuck with them – and this is what they had to say:

I’ve learned a lot about forest restoration and how to preserve the trees.  One of my favorite moments was when I jumped in the water at night with my brothers [at the Rainbow Pools]. Best part of my experience was hiking up those giant granite mountain tops. -Avante

Ta’aron and Rosalinda clearing brush around conifer seedlings

 

 

One thing I learned about the trip was work gets done faster as a team . We saw how the CCC worked as a team and got the work done faster. My favorite part about this trip was the experience about trying new things. It was a tough trip but we got to meet new people. Civicorps should have more of these trips and encourage corps members to go.  -Rosalinda

The fun experience I had on the trip was when we did the hike. Even though my body was hurting it was just was just fun to do it. -Ta’Ron

 

 

Joshanette makes felling trees look easy

The fun part about the trip was the people I’ve went with got to learn new things about them, tell stories about our past and had s’mores, got to dance all night with these kindly people who were also there with us, got scared to death, got to climb to the top of the mountain and see some beautiful views and waterfalls, and loved the FOOD there! -Joshanette

 

What I learned was to not complain. Also, I know now that we work hard but there is always harder work out there. I know that there will be people you meet and relate to you just from energy or experience. I had fun with everyone especially because we jumped into a lake at like 7 or 8 PM.  What else was fun was the fact that we all got things that we didn’t think we would get but it was worth it. (PS: Nature is amazing, thanks for letting me go.) -Isiah

 

 

Sunset on our final night

Determined to Persevere

As for me, this experience demonstrated what our Corpsmembers are truly capable of if they allow themselves to step outside of their comfort zone. The Conservation Interns I had the pleasure of working with were determined, persevering, and strong. They exhibit what many Civicorps Corpsmembers bring to work each day, showing again that they are more than able to pursue opportunities like these after our program if they take a chance and have faith in their own abilities and devices.  I could not be more proud of what these five individuals accomplished and am excited to see what they do next.

I have to give a special shout out to Steven Addison for setting the tone the first couple days of our trip and for believing so much in our Corpsmembers.  I also want to give props to the staff at San Jose Family Camp (especially the cook Ruben), and all the Corpsmembers and Supervisors with the CCC who were all welcoming and made us feel at home.  THANK YOU!

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