On Wednesday, November 16, I witnessed an incredible event.
In a town hall event, organized by the thoughtful and committed hearts of Julio Magana, Venus Mesui, Preston Thomas, Alejandra Vila, and Kimberly Young, Life Academy High School of Health and Bioscience recognized the lives and senseless deaths of five former students: Nancy Nyugen, Marco Casillas, Jose Rocha, Raymen Justice, and Luis Garibay (the most recent victim of gun violence in Oakland).
Together, as a school community, we decided to stand up for change and stand up against the normalization (and perhaps glorification) of violence in Oakland.
My school’s principal, Preston Thomas, began his speech with some poignant and thought-provoking words – words that stung my heart and took my breath away.
“In other communities, when a teenagers dies, the world stops,” Thomas said, “In Oakland, it just keeps going.”
I reflected on my experience of losing adolescents and young adults in Murphys, CA (my hometown). A young man died of cancer; the world stopped. A young man died in a tragic car accident; the world stopped, and his face was plastered on every newspaper I remember seeing. A young man died in a drunk driving accident; the world stopped, and the flowers at the place of his death continue to be replaced even three years later.
But, this does not happen in Oakland.
I found out about Luis Garibay’s death on Monday, November 7. On Wednesday, November 9, I frantically checked all of the local online newspapers because I refused to believe my colleagues when they said that his death remained unannounced – invisible. I was jolted into the reality of how the death of young men and women is treated in Oakland when I found that they were right. My palms sweat and shook with an unrestrained rage as I continued to refine my search phrases even though I knew I would never find anything about the young man because it just wasn’t there. His death didn’t seem to matter outside of the grieving hearts of his family, my students (his friends), and my colleagues (his teachers and supporters).
Our town hall forced the people in the greater Oakland community to make his death matter. Our microphones, applause, tears, drums, songs, poems, candles, and posters made his death (and the senseless deaths of so many other young men and women) tangible, real, incapable of being ignored.
Our school community invited the families of the young men and women who have been taken from us – the families of the young men and women who were at the wrong place at the wrong time – in order to give them an opportunity to share their grief. We invited reporters in order to hold them accountable for telling these untold and ignored stories. We invited policy makers, government officials, and community activists in order to hold them accountable for helping us to make change.
For over an hour, the hearts in our community beat as one, both comforting each other and challenging each other to ignite a real change. It was the definition of solidarity – of beauty.
As the tears streamed down my face for the trauma my community has had to deal with, I felt myself healing – I felt our community healing.
Furthermore, I felt myself reclaiming the power that I thought the acts of violence in Oakland took away from me. I re-realized my ability to be a part of and the strength I bring to the collective force of youth developers that is committed to educating underserved youth and enabling these young men and women to reach their dreams (or simply TO dream) through the equitable distribution of resources, skills, tools, and knowledge.
Mr. Justice, the father of the late Raymen Justice, reminded us, “The ones who are committing this violence are not educated.”
Then, that must continue to be my mission – to educate.