News Report, Edgardo Cervano-Soto
At LaVonya DeJean Middle School on May 25, the end of the school day meant the beginning of the “Forgive and Forget” dance party in the school’s gym. The “Forgive and Forget Dance” is a community project from Alondra Reyes and Vanessa Jimenez, both 8th grade students and members of the Latina Center’s Young Latina Future Leaders program. In between the music, Reyes and other speakers urged the group of 80 students to stop the drama, or conflicts at school.
“When you begin to start drama you get conflicts and consequences,” says Reyes. ‘Drama develops into bullying. I had drama with somebody but we cleared it out. We are good now.”
The “Forgive and Forget Dance” is only one of the many projects from the Latina Center. Founded in 2001 by Miriam Wong, the Latina Center began its work in Richmond by empowering immigrant Latina women, who for the majority were victims of domestic violence.
Through its own Woman’s Social Leadership program, over 4,000 women have graduated as leaders and conducted 457 projects. The Young Latina Future Leaders (YLFL) program, takes on the same model of training leaders and developing community projects, but recruits young teenage Latinas, like 8th grade student Alondra Reyes. YLFL currently has 45 members and is held in LaVonya DeJean and Helms Middle School. Members will continue their community advocacy projects over the summer.
The community advocacy projects from the YLFL covers a wide range, says Yenny Velazquez, YLFL’s program coordinator. In addition to the ‘Forgive and Forget Dance”, other projects in the works address drug prevention, dating violence and citizenship/immigration workshops. Velazquez says the efforts from the Young Latina Future Leaders program and the Latina Center forms part of a larger movement to build a “healthier Richmond.” At the Latina Center, this means empowering the women internally and motivating them to be leaders involved in the community. It is a process that can alter lives.
Velazquez, herself took a leap of faith when she attended a peer support group at the Latina Center four years ago. “I was going through post-partum depression and it was a really difficult time in my life,” says Velazquez. “ I started going to their support group and the director, Miriam Wong, said to me, you know what, you can do this,” Velazquez remembers.” Velazquez participated in the support group for a full year and then took part in the Women’s Leadership program. She graduated from the program and remained at the Latina Center to develop the Young Latina Future Leaders program. In the program, Velazquez coordinates mentors for the student members and runs support groups. The group is coming into its own.
In March , YLFL members addressed senator’s and assembly members in Sacramento in support for AB 1880, teen dating violence prevention measures. On April 28, the Latina Center hosted its second health fair, where YLFL members spoke with parents on communicating strategies with their children. Future plans include being present in Richmond’s Juneteenth festival.
Norma Diaz, an adult participant at the Latina Center, has witnessed the growth of YLFL and is proud of their involvement with the community. During the “Forgive and Forget Dance”, Diaz was selling food to the students. “ Perhaps, I don’t like to dance much, but this is important for them, so they learn how to cooperate. It’s important for the youth to have friendships and learn to be united,” says Diaz.
Although the school year is ending, the Young Latina Future Leader members will continue to meet during the summer and plan advocacy projects. Their graduation from the YLFL program is scheduled for July 22nd.
The Latina Center is located at 3919 Roosevelt Avenue. For general questions on the Latina Center’s services or the Young Latina Future Leaders program, call (510) 233-8595.
RICHMOND PULSE is a community news and media outlet, committed to amplifying the stories and voices of the city’s under-served residents. Our reporting is led by young people, but with the intent of serving the entire community. Through our work, we seek to discover, and find solutions to, the health issues that plague the Richmond, California community. http://richmondpulse.org/