By: Samantha Sandoval, Programs and Grants Manager, Latino Community Foundation
“We are planting life where life was taken”
“We are planting life where life was taken.” With these words, Tyreece and Luis completed their final project of their NOPAL fellowship during the inaugural NOPAL Fellow Celebration. This Celebration honored young people who are formerly incarcerated and have returned to their families to empower themselves and their communities by healing and leading projects that create change.
Over the past ten months, Tyreece and Luis, two NOPAL Fellows with Fathers & Families of San Joaquin, worked with UC Davis researchers on community health and beautification initiatives to reclaim public space, plant greenery, and help heal the hood. Something they didn’t know was possible for them before being recruited to this life changing opportunity.
NOPAL – Neighborhoods Owning Power, Action, and Leadership is a collective of four powerful and visionary Central Valley and Central Coast nonprofits united to lead change for the region—Fathers & Families of San Joaquin, Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño (CBDIO), Motivating Individual Leadership for Public Advancement (MILPA),Faith in Merced. Together, they are building people power by providing cultural leadership development and community engagement opportunities to young people in the heart of California.
Many of the brilliant young leaders who become NOPAL Fellows have been impacted by the juvenile justice or foster care system. NOPAL believes they are best positioned to create solutions for change, and they stand beside them as they journey through cultural healing, community organizing, and participatory action research. Each organization of the NOPAL collective hires two Fellows a year who receive mentorship and training to develop as leaders and lead advocacy projects that uplift their communities in the Central Valley.
“We lift up the narrative that we are the architects of our own destiny,” explains Leoncio Vasquez Santos, Executive Director of CBDIO, as his NOPAL Fellows setup their presentation slides. Having immigrated from indigenous communities in Oaxaca, Mexico, the Fellows wanted to improve opportunities for the indigenous student population in local Central Valley schools. Working with university researchers, the Fellows conducted focus groups with indigenous families to understand their knowledge of and access to local resources for educational opportunities. In collaboration with UCLA, results of this Fellow-led research will be published in a report and shared with local school districts to help improve school outreach and engagement with indigenous students, ensuring that they thrive academically.
“I’ve never had support like this. It’s important to be close to the fire, to be close to the medicine,” a past Fellow turned staff member at MILPA shared after passing the burning sage during the healing circle, that centers the group in their cultural roots.
I was honored to witness the power of culture during the NOPAL Fellow Celebration. It reinforces what I have learned at the Latino Community Foundation, that our indigenous and cultural approaches to healing and leadership development are working. Young people are hungry to connect and learn about their cultural traditions and in the process, they heal, build power, and find their sacred purpose.