November 19, 2020
My name is Melissa G. Rodezno-Patrino, and I’m currently the new Executive Director of Just Communities.
One of my earliest memories from El Salvador was my mom going to the voting booth, I asked her who she was voting for, and she asked me to please keep my voice down, as she stated, “It doesn't matter who I vote for.” This was at the height of the civil war, where human right violations were rampant, and the democratic process was nonexistent.
My mom and I immigrated to the U.S. when I was nine years old, leaving behind everything and everyone we knew, so we could have a better life. I still remember my first night in the U.S., it was the first time I had a clear sense of safety, and a wave of relief washed over me. Since that night, I have sought to understand why systems are allowed to create the inequities and hardships I witness all around me.
Today, Just Communities pauses in gratitude for all the hard work Black women across the nation and locally have done and continue to do to organize, in spite of violence and disparagement. While also acknowledging the momentous work organizations, foundations, and individuals have accomplished to advance equity in Santa Barbara County.
With the election several days behind us, we cannot go back to a place of complacency with the belief that everything will be normal again, racism continues and the struggle for liberation is ongoing. Growing up in the U.S., going away to school, and coming back to my community, I came to understand that the same America that once made me feel so safe, was and continues to be the same America where many fear for their lives, fear being deported and separated from loved ones, where jogging while Black like Ahmaud Arbery or even sleeping in one’s bed, like Breonna Taylor, is a matter between life and death.
Before we begin to talk about healing, we must first reflect on why so many communities have to work so hard to be seen and heard. At the core, the ailment is systemic oppression and white supremacy. Let’s remedy this by holding ourselves accountable to ongoing change within ourselves while simultaneously creating real systemic change.
I came to Just Communities because our programming details the why of the inequities taking place throughout schools, government, and communities. We center our programming on the individual and welcome a “Community of Practice,” which is the idea that all people have experiential knowledge and individual realities that have value and voice in creating positive systemic change in dismantling white supremacy.
In order to accomplish this big task, which is a lifelong commitment, we begin with developing a common language and accessing education - conocimiento. As Allan G. Johnson says, “You can’t deal with a problem if you don’t name it; once you name it, you can think, talk and write about it.” Through this, program participants can have conversations about race and privilege, creating an understanding of who historically was left out of policy making decisions, and the current consequences of such actions.
Recent attacks on critical race theory and diversity trainings at the national level feel all too familiar to the lawsuit Just Communities and the Santa Barbara Unified School District faced by Fair Education Santa Barbara. While we were cleared of all the inflammatory accounts brought on by the lawsuit, the threat from this group against any community organization advocating for equity remains.
Despite Covid-19, and our contract being placed on hold with the Santa Barbara Unified School District, we have remained nimble and responsive to the needs of our community. We shifted to virtual programming with universities, organizations, youth, and families, along with Virtual Community Extravaganzas, and a Facebook Live Series discussing community needs due to Covid-19, where along with field experts and nonprofit partners, we focused on mental health and wellbeing, childcare, access to outdoor spaces, language justice, and housing and homelessness, reaching over 2,380 views in the span of 4 weeks. Finally, we are incredibly proud of the Learning Pods we hosted at four community locations for 48 students in Santa Barbara.
“As an educator, I see my student's progress academically by being more engaged due to the spacious area where he can sit down, have his device and materials ready for class. He is also turning in work consistently. As soon as he needs assistance, Miss Martina supports him. Even though I am not physically present, I can sense his happiness and how comfortable he feels being in the Learning Pods because he participates with a smile. I am convinced that my student feels welcome and has a sense of belonging which has helped him personally to gain confidence in himself.” ~ Carolina Alcaraz, Adelante teacher
We are so incredibly thankful for your ongoing support, and understanding this is not a normal year for anyone, this is not a typical year-end appeal. We ask that if you can, help us continue these important conversations and creating life changing experiences.
What I know from my lived experience is that in order to sustain a strong democracy, regardless of who is in power, everyone’s voices must be heard, beginning within our local community. This means speaking out against injustices wherever they might occur. This is a long-hard fight, and we need people like yourself committing to work for equity.
Melissa G. Rodezno-Patrino
Executive Director, Just Communities
p.s. Be sure to check our website for program updates!