By Sadad Ali
The Greenlining Institute named Sadad Ali a San Diego Health Equity Fellow. He plans to work on restorative justice in City Heights during his fellowship. He is also a member of the Mid-City CAN Coordinating Council.
I was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. I was not old enough when I left to remember the once-beautiful coastal city. My mother, five siblings and I arrived in San Diego in 1994 as refugees. We left after the civil war started.
Growing up in City Heights in the mid-1990s was a cultural shock and it raised a lot of uncertainty about America in me at the time. There was a lot of gang and drug activity at schools, at the recreation centers, even in front of our neighborhood complex.
Being easily able to steer in the wrong direction with all the negatives in the environment around us, disciplined children were a top priority for our mother. She stressed the need to complete our education. She raised six kids by herself while she attended school and worked at the same time. Her resilience and determination to provide a better future for her kids made my siblings and me who we are today.
All six of us obtained a college degree, and so did our very own mother. My mother’s will and courage inspired me to help people that are in need and make a difference in my community. I went to college, obtained a bachelor of science degree in public administration, and I am hoping to start graduate school by next year.
City Heights has changed a lot the last few years, mostly positive — but there are still a lot of disparities. Lack of economic opportunities and the high number of unskilled workers has slowed down the community, and many young people don’t have the motivation they need to succeed.
Quite often, they are targets of the criminal justice system.
For the past two years, my time has been devoted to working to address these two issues — among the many issues that exist.
I have been an advocate in the community and participated in The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities Initiative that started in 2009. It is a 10-year initiative that supports the development of communities where kids and youth are healthy, safe and ready to learn.
I am also on the Coordinating Council on Mid-City Community Advocacy Network, an organization creates a safe, productive, and healthy community through collaboration, advocacy, and organizing.
The Greenlining Institute chose me as a new Health Equity Fellow this month. I will be working at The California Endowment office. The fellowship is a new one-year program that teaches leadership development, increases knowledge of philanthropic and nonprofit practices, as well as effective researching and writing about health equity issues.
My role is to continue working on the deferred-entry, restorative-justice initiative. That is work by the Mid-City CAN Peace Promotion Momentum Team to give City Heights young people a second chance if they commit minor legal offenses. I am a co-chair of that team. Creating this larger network of support for the youth can help give them a greater chance to succeed by involving them in opportunities to become self-sufficient and break the cycle of incarceration.
My vision in the coming years is to see a community that has a productive, engaged group of young people, families and residents, with the knowledge and desire to make an impact in City Heights and the world.