From UC Berkeley Back to Her East Oakland Home

By Frania Martinez, East Oakland BHC Intern

I am an ordinary person who grew up in East Oakland, attended Castlemont High School, went off to college and graduated. Yet many perceive my story as amazing and some even as a miracle. The reason may be that I am one of the many youth of color in Oakland who have been forgotten and neglected.

I want to use this opportunity to uplift the incredible work I learned throughout my internship at East Oakland Building Healthy Communities (East Oakland BHC) and the greater East Oakland community. There is a fight for the most vulnerable and marginalized, such as myself, to give East Oakland residents strength and agency to advocate for what we need and truly deserve.

I grew up in East Oakland in a tight, nurturing household where my parents made sure I was supported to every extent possible. Despite this, my parents were unable to protect me from experiencing many injustices growing up: poor educational services, lack of green and recreational spaces, exposure to drugs and violence. The list is extensive and exhausting.

My time at East Oakland BHC is the beginning of my work in and for my city. East Oakland BHC has afforded me many opportunities to engage with numerous not-for-profit organizations dedicated to improving health outcomes and explore these realms of work.

Over the course of my ten-week internship, I supported several projects including the Sugar Freedom Project and The East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods. I learned about the Healthy Development Guidelines and so much more.

Roots Community Health Center is a primary care clinic that is leading many projects including the Sugar Freedom Project. Diabetes and childhood obesity have long haunted East Oakland where the highest prevalence and mortality rates exist. The Sugar Freedom Project is door-knocking, holding focus groups and gathering evidence to demand the tax money of Measure HH is put back into the community that is affected most by sugar. I am happy to have been a part of this movement while an intern and look forward to supporting this cause as a stakeholder and community resident.

The East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods is a network of community-led organizations that are concerned about the issues being dismissed by our decision-makers. The Congress believes that through coming together, East Oakland will gain the power and build the momentum necessary to fix the potholes and address illegal dumping, lack of jobs, gentrification, and homelessness, to name a few. I have attended several meetings where we have been discussing a large event taking place on September 30. I also joined the communications team and am finding ways to engage community members with this work. We want there to be positive changes in East Oakland and are working hard for the City of Oakland to listen!

Moreover, learning about the Healthy Development Guidelines has demonstrated to me the importance of implementing policies that not even powerful folks can violate. East Oakland BHC, along with Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and advocates for environmental justice, have long been pushing to pass the Healthy Development Guidelines (HDG), a set of rules that aim to protect Oakland residents. We want to ensure that businesses that come into East Oakland provide jobs and promote health and life. We want to ensure that crematoriums such as the one being built in my hometown are not even possible, given the extremely high rates of asthma among children in East Oakland.

There are too many issues that are not being addressed. Too many children not being provided quality education, quality food and quality life. Yet, East Oakland is thriving because the people are resilient. I take pride in being from East Oakland because it is where important movements to fight for social justice started and because we are not giving up!

From this point forward my plans revolve around working in sectors of the government or non-profits. My ultimate goal is to be part of the movement that improves holistic health and well-being of East Oakland residents. In the future, I see myself earning a Master’s Degree in Public Health and working with council members to improve and implement smart policies.

I want to thank East Oakland BHC staff and community partners for this opportunity and privilege to work alongside them. It was an honor to work with amazing and caring people.

Thank you!