A traditional community improvement project in City Heights typically begins with an institution identifying an issue, shaping the response to the issue, and then inviting residents to execute the solution.
City Heights residents are taking the lead on learning how to influence public policy decisions. | Photo Courtesy of City Heights Life
Growing from that experience, a group of City Heights residents have organized themselves into what participant Delia Contreras calls a “human movement” that will be working toward solving complex community issues with residents taking the lead.
The group, mostly parents who are also active in the Hoover Cluster, decided several months ago that they wanted more of a voice in what happens in their community. They approached The California Endowment and were approved for a grant to pay for training classes to help them come to the public policy bargaining table “as prepared as everyone else,” in the words of the group’s trainer, Dr. William Oswald.
On the first day of training, everyone in the group expressed what they hoped to get out of the training. Popular comments included: to help the community become better informed; to help children improve academically; to improve access to nutritious food; and to bring about change. Perhaps Hermalinda Figueroa expressed the sentiments of many when she said she wants to “learn how to speak with people high up in organizations. I want to get the courage to do it.”
Oswald, a professor for more than 25 years, will be leading a total of 11 training sessions to teach the participants how public policy is made and how they can be at the table of the decision makers. He envisions a future where agencies support programs created by residents instead of creating programs for residents.
In response to one participant’s question of why residents are not currently at the decision-making level more often, Oswald said it’s difficult for agencies to determine who speaks for the community. As part of the training, participants will identify what part of the community they speak for.
The group is officially calling themselves the “City Heights Parent Leaders.” Valentina Hernandez is the chairperson. At the end of the training sessions, the group will select one City Heights issue to focus on and will identify barriers and solutions to solve it.
The group is similar to, but different from, a new Resident Leadership Academy that meets weekly at the City Heights Wellness Center and is also funded through The California Endowment.
The ultimate goal of both groups is to create a healthy community. Oswald said for that to happen, families have to be healthy. As the parents group identified, healthy can be expressed through education, safety, nutrition, environment and many other factors, but they all lead back to the same place. Dr. Oswald says City Heights has the resources to overcome its barriers, but to do so, agencies need to support parents who, in turn, will support their kids to break the cycle of hardship begetting hardship and privilege begetting privilege.
[Disclosure: Speak City Heights is funded by The California Endowment but operates as an independent news collaborative. The above article appeared in City Heights Life, a monthly publication funded by Price Charities.]