Op-Ed: School mental health intern writes in support of Measures E and K

Photo credit: Richmond Kids First Initiative, 2016 (person pictured is not the op-ed author)

An op-ed by Marlene Clarivel Meza, Richmond resident:

Having grown up in Richmond, I thought I knew pretty much what to expect when I started working as a mental health intern at a local high school this school year. Truth is I learned so much more about the youth in our community than I ever imagined. In reference to Tupac’s “The Rose That Grew from Concrete,” we have ‘roses’ growing all around us in Richmond. Let’s acknowledge them and let’s nurture them. 

I moved to the East Bay from San Francisco’s Excelsior district when I was 6 years old and grew up at a time when there was not much talk about trauma-informed care. School-based health centers were non-existent.

Now, as a social work student 26 years later, I was thrilled to learn that I would be working in a school-based health center in my own community. The students welcomed me with open arms. As the only Spanish speaking counselor at the school, my caseload filled up quickly and I soon realized that the need for services is far greater than expected.

I realized that children and adolescents in our community are facing struggles that I never had to deal with. The reality is that although we have made some progress in regards to resources available to children and youth, this generation is experiencing additional stressors that go beyond the borders of our community. National news is playing out in the schoolyards in our backyards. From school lockdowns to the immigration raids that have terrorized our community, students are seeing headlines come to life. But it’s not just a news story for them, it’s real and in spite of this they are taking action to create change.

Our local RYSE Youth Center is evidence of what our youth have been able to accomplish with the little resources available to them and their desire and ability to create change in our community. RYSE opened its doors to children age 13-21 in 2008 and has since spearheaded many youth-led initiatives. A 2014 survey of 200 RYSE members revealed that they not only feel more connected to the community as a result of their membership, but they also feel like their ideas count and 86% think more about their futures. This is the kind of hope we need for our city and when our youth speak, we need to listen.

Richmond youth spoke this past weekend, at the Kids First Richmond Campaign Kick-off event at the Ryse Youth Center. They expressed their support for Yes on E & K, two measure that will be on the June 5, 2018 ballot: the Richmond Kids First Initiative and a charter amendment revising Richmond Kids First. These initiatives will create a dedicated funding source for children and youth services, and establish a Department of Children and Youth in the city of Richmond.

As a resident of the city of Richmond, a mental health intern, and a mother of two, I urge the community to unite in allyship with our youth and partner with them to pass measures E & K.  These measures will secure funds necessary to invest in their future and go towards prevention services. We’ve lost too many young lives to gun violence within the past 7 days alone and our community has endured more than its share of trauma. Enough is enough.

Tupac spoke of resilient roses growing in concrete. While our children are inspirationally resilient and capable of great things, they need the community to come together and take action. If we want to see meaningful lasting change we need to start seeing our city of Richmond as our garden and collectively give it the nurturing it needs to grow and thrive.