Above: Nearly 300 residents turned out for the #SchoolsNotPrisons event in downtown Merced earlier this month. Families enjoyed food, music and important community discussion on ending the school-to-prison pipeline. (Photo by Kody Stoebig)
By Maria Dominguez
MERCED, Calif.– On July 8th, the Multi-Cultural Arts Center in downtown Merced saw around 300 people attend in support of the statewide “Schools Not Prisons” campaign. The event included local youth reporters, children, teenagers and adults who got together and talked about our involvement in the Schools Not Prisons community. People like We’Ced Youth Media’s program manager Claudia Gonzalez talked about her past when she was incarcerated and what she had to go through in order to become the person she is today.
“Incarceration is an issue that is close to my heart,” Gonzalez said. “I was incarcerated at a very young age. The work I do is to ensure young people in Merced do not experience what I endured. The stigma of incarceration never stops following you.”
During the Schools Not Prisons event people watched the 2016 documentary “They Call Us Monsters,” which was about three teenagers accused of crimes and placed behind bars. As a Latina, I can relate to Juan, the protagonist from the film, due to the struggles that he and other Latinx go through like deportation and racism. Schools Not Prisons focuses on the mass incarceration problems that have been occurring in California and how communities can unite to make our community a safe place to live.
Schools Not Prisons’ main purpose is to make a change and help communities fight for what we believe is right including an end to violence, reduced crime and ending racism between different communities. The Merced event also featured food, drinks and many other activities for the community to enjoy throughout the night.
I played the role of We’ced Youth Reporter during the event and helped out in the candy section where I got the chance to talk to new people and face my fears of being an introverted person.
At first I was nervous about talking to people I didn’t know or even being around them. I’m known for being a shy person who doesn’t really talk that much, only opening up when it comes to my closest friends or people I trust. During the event, I started feeling more confident and comfortable around people and enjoyed the event even more than at the beginning of the night.
I got the chance to interview people like 16-year-old high school student Maribel Reyes from Merced. She came to the event because she needed community service hours and she also wanted to meet new people.
I was also lucky enough to get the chance to interview Necola Adams who ran for mayor here in Merced last fall. Adams said she attended the Schools Not Prisons event because she believes that we need to address the issues of deportation and racism against people in our community. She has an amazing background story about her life and it was really interesting for me to learn about it.
She told me she has lived her whole life here in Merced and has seen firsthand how these issue affect the community. She now has granddaughters in the community and said she liked seeing how many youth came out for the event and are getting involved in the community.
This was my first time attending an event like Schools Not Prisons. I was never that type of person who gets involved with community work or gives my opinion about political topics. I was used to just going from school to my house and back again, but once I started attending We’Ced, my point of view changed.
I started giving more importance to my surroundings and the problems in my community. The Schools Not Prisons event We’Ced hosted made me more interested in other people’s opinions and what their stories say about our community. From this event I learned that it’s important to have your voice heard and fight for what you believe is right. It’s also important to not let others discriminate against us just because we come from a different country or have different beliefs.
Overall, the event was really fun because I was with people I knew, I ate my favorite tacos, I spent time with my best friend, I talked to new people, I got the chance to be more open to others and I learned new things about the Schools Not Prisons campaign. I would gladly attend another event like this one because it has achieved something meaningful in people’s lives and shows how the community is a safe place to give our personal opinions and unite to make a better future for everyone.