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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#NoFilter, Just Nature

“This is beyond me!” Mani* shouts as she realizes how tough carrying a 65L backpack is while hiking up a mountain. Corpsmembers ahead of her would hear her and shout back, “but you’re doing it!” The support and encouragement to move forward was the highlight of this year’s week-long backpacking trip in the Tahoe National Forest.

Backpacking is not an easy feat, it requires physical and mental strength that for some, proved to be challenging. But as a group, Corpsmembers persisted. On our first day, Corpsmembers hiked 1.1 miles to Island Lake. We encountered a friendly camper, Johnny, who showed Radio* how to start a campfire. Radio really enjoyed this so much that he proclaimed himself the “pyro starter” and started all our campfires for the rest of the week.

By next morning, we set foot on the trail to Glacier Lake. This was the toughest trail in the whole trip, this 5.1 hike was moderately difficult, ending with a very stiff climb on a rocky mountain top. But at the top of the mountain was Glacier Lake, which nestles at the base of the Black Buttes in the Grouse Ridge. A site for the heavens. Corpsmembers swam in its deep clear water, freezing to the touch, but refreshing to the soul.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover, everything is a new experience and you don’t know what you like until you experience it.” – Bucko*

Bringing our Corpsmembers to the wilderness allows them to escape and unplug themselves from society.  We find solace in nature, its beauty and sound permits each and every one of us to connect with ourselves. We learn to silence the noises in our heads and meditate to the wind blowing in the distance, the croaking frogs on the other side of the lake, the Black-capped Chickadees singing their pure chickadee-dee-dee call. At night, the cold wind breezes over the warm waters of Rock Lake, causing mist to rise under the bright half-moon. Nature is therapy.

“It was soothing it made you think about life, it cleared your head and gave you free space to think about things in your own life.”   – T*

Around the campfire we made s’mores, played rounds of the game Mafia, and shared scary stories. While we laughed over jokes, we also cried. In this moment of escape, we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable. We held each other’s hands to fight through our own personal challenges in the real world, knowing we had one another for support.

As we approached the end of our backpacking adventure, we felt accomplished. We hiked over 18 miles, visited and swam in 6 lakes, encountered various species of flora and fauna native to this region. The site of Golden-mantled ground squirrels, Brown Bullhead catfishes in the lake, and an abundance of butterflies and bees only reminded us of how powerful nature is to our bodies.

At times of anxiety, we were able to be happy. On a challenging hike, we worked together and encouraged each other to fight through the pain in our legs.  Together we persevered, only to prove how resilient we all can be in different environments. We learned to live in the moment, “#nofilter, just nature.”

*Before we set on our adventure, we gave each other trail names. Mani, Bucko, T, Mo, Radio, Dolfo, and Rosie were the chosen names of our Corpsmembers, Jesus, C-9, and Ya-You were staff and volunteer’s trail names. 

Enjoy more photos below!

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Another Grad Goes Wild

It’s exciting to introduce a new guest blogger, Civicorps’ Lead Counselor Natasha Vinakor, who shares another story about the backcountry:

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Road Trip to the Eastern Sierras

It was a great road trip. I tagged along with Job Training Coordinator Steven Addison as he delivered Shaniya Burks to her summer job with the Eastern Sierra Conservation Corps. Neither Shaniya nor I had ever been to the Eastern side of the Sierras, and it is spectacular. Snowcapped peaks over high mountain desert. Hot springs scattered around, as well as small to medium sized towns.  Going over the Sierras, we wound back down the other side on roads that only recently re-opened after a very snowy winter. We drove by raging rivers and the extra mineral filled Mono Lake.

It was supposed to be a 6 and a half hour trip, but we stopped for food and supplies, to take pictures, and to touch snow. We didn’t roll into her camp until 9 pm. Shaniya met her Crew Leader Valerie, who gave her a briefing and showed her new home for 8 weeks: her tent.  Shaniya’s crew had already set up her tent for her!  She was nervous and then less nervous, and then excited. Steven and I camped nearby for the night and said goodbye to her over breakfast with her new community. They were shy with each other at first, but quickly started to bond. Shaniya is going to have a great summer.

Shaniya’s Journey

Shaniya came to Civicorps in February of 2017 when she was 18 years old.  She made the Honor Roll, and earned numerous awards such as Crewmember of the Month and Hardest Hitter in English and Science classes. As a Conservation Intern at our Job Training Center, she earned a promotion to become a Crew Leader. Throughout her time at Civicorps, she took advantage of an array of extracurricular activities.  In December 2018, she earned her high school diploma.  Now 20, she has grown from a shy and reserved young person into a leader and an explorer.

When I was the same age as Shaniya, I was a Corpsmember in the Montana Conservation Corps — big sky country — and fell in love with big mountains. Steven has put in many years with the California Conservation Corps, as a Corpsmember then as a Crew Leader and Supervisor for Backcountry crews.  Steven’s friend Agnes Vianzon started the Eastern Sierra Corps with the mission to bring more women of color into wilderness jobs.  Steven started recruiting after getting word that they needed folks for the summer.  It felt awesome to be bringing Shaniya out there to this beautiful location. We can’t wait to see what’s ahead for her!  It’s good when life feels full circle.

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