In 2008, Fabiola Gonzalez-Gutierrez took part in Just Communities’ intensive CommUnity Leadership Institute designed to teach up to 40 local high school students about all the “isms” that get in the way of social justice.
“All my experiences with racism and classism had been private,” Gonzalez-Gutierrez says. “For the first time those experiences were welcomed and supported. As a young person you need that validation, to know that you are not alone.”
Ten years later, after graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles, Gonzalez-Gutierrez came to work for the nonprofit that had opened her eyes a decade before.
That nonprofit, Just Communities, “advances justice by building leadership, fostering change, and dismantling all forms of prejudice, discrimination, and oppression.”
Its staff of five helps youth, educators, and families through cultural competency trainings for organizational leaders, running education seminars for the general public, and producing leadership training institutes for students and teachers.
Gonzalez-Gutierrez, Just Communities’ Development and Communications Manager, and Executive Director Melissa Rodezno-Patrino point to the outcome of a recent student seminar at a local Santa Barbara high school. There, students serving on-campus suspensions had to do so in the cafeteria. At lunchtime they were made to eat their lunches facing the wall. “It was dehumanizing,” Gonzalez-Gutierrez says.
As part of the Just Communities’ model the students gave a presentation to the principal. That was in August. Come September, when school started, the practice had been dismantled.
Rodezno-Patrino likens this example to the greater “sense of awakening” about racial injustice gripping the country. “Once you know what is happening there is no way to go back,” she says. “We at Just Communities have always had this conversation. We are not a regular nonprofit where you are treating the ailment with a band-aid. We are treating it directly.”
Every year the staff serves more than 400 young people and adults throughout the region. And every day they are hearing from new organizations looking for tools to dismantle racism in their work. For nearly 20 years, Just Communities has been doing just that