This Holiday Season, Give the Gift of Progressive Leadership

If you asked my high school self whether I cared about anything related to politics, I would’ve just shrugged my shoulders.

You see, growing up I was taught not to question authority, or even to speak up. Instead, I was taught to roll with the punches, move along, and work hard in school to get ahead. Growing up in East Side San Jose, a wonderfully diverse place that’s home to immigrant communities and working-class folks, I was blind to the injustices happening in my community — from the interracial tensions to gang violence to the low academic achievement in schools.  Politics was a foreign topic to me, especially growing up in a working-class Pilipino family where any mention of it was shunned right away. My family just didn’t want anything to do with it. Yet, some of my family members feared deportation, and others were struggling to find work to provide for the 13 De Vera’s living together in a 4-bedroom house. For nearly 18 years of my life, that was my reality, and I was taught to not question it.

“Work hard in school. It’ll get better.”

Through my dad’s encouragement, education became my constant. Despite the lack of resources at my high school, I was able to graduate and get accepted to my dream university, UCLA, with the help of my peers and a few key teachers. The four years I spent at UCLA transformed me, and quite literally changed my life. It was at UCLA where I developed an understanding of my own identity as a queer, Pilipino, first-generation college student. It was where I learned that injustices like those in my home community didn’t happen in isolation, but were systemic. It was where my political consciousness was groomed. Simply, UCLA was where I found my voice, and my passion to fight for justice and equity.

My high school self never would’ve thought that I’d participate in protests and rallies against tuition hikes and budget cuts. I never would’ve imagined running for UCLA’s student government with a progressive slate of candidates to push for a more diverse and affordable university — and let alone win. The transformation that I experienced through my education has led me to my current job as the Communications Coordinator for The Greenlining Institute, a public policy think tank advancing equitable policies for racial and economic justice. My work inspires me everyday knowing that I have the privilege and opportunity to work towards uplifting the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

I went from that apolitical high school kid to somebody who works to get people to understand how politics affects their everyday lives. 

Earlier this year, I was accepted into the Front Line Leaders Academy (put on by People for the American Way via Young People For (YP4) and the Young Elected Officials Network), a national highly-competitive political leadership development program for folks who are interested in becoming progressive candidates for public office, or having the skills to run winning campaigns for progressives. In just the past 4 months, I’ve received nearly 150 hours of training in public speaking, fundraising, voter engagement, and campaign management as a member of a class of 19 progressive leaders from across the country. I decided to apply to FLLA because I’ve come to learn that effective and accountable leadership from public officials is necessary for advancing policies that provide opportunity and justice for all. I want to make sure that our elected leaders look more like the people that they’re representing, and that they’ll stand up for those who feel like they don’t have a voice.

2013-2014 FLLA Fellows

FLLA has sharpened my understanding of our political process, and has shown me why there is an urgent need to continue developing and investing in young leaders. They say, “Youth are the future.” However, we oftentimes forget that our future is shaped by what happens today. FLLA has empowered me with a diverse set of skills that I’ll continue utilizing as a community leader and advocate. The challenges that I’ve experienced have become invaluable lessons for my personal and professional development. I’ve been put in the most uncomfortable situations that have allowed me to grow, with the following ask being one of them.

This holiday season, I’m asking you to join me in giving the gift of progressive leadership by donating to the Front Line Leaders Academy. 

You might not know this, but fundraising is something that absolutely terrifies me. Growing up, I was taught that asking for donations is shameful — that I should always work for money, not ask for it. FLLA has challenged me to think otherwise — asking for donations is simply asking for people to invest and believe in me.

I graduate from FLLA next month, but in order to graduate, I have to prove my fundraising capabilities and raise real money to contribute to the program. The fundraised money will go towards funding the next cohort of FLLA Fellows. My current goal is to raise $500 so that FLLA can identify, recruit, and train the next class of progressive leaders.

Will you help me reach that goal with a donation of $10, $25, or $50? Any amount that you can give will help, and if you’re not able to give, helping spread the word to one other person can make a difference.

Here’s how you can donate:

You can make a tax-deductible donation online here: secure.pfaw.org/site/Donation2 (Please select my name, “JC De Vera,” in the drop-down field where it asks for Fellow Name. This will help track contributions and make sure my goal is reached!)

If you’d like to donate with cash/check/or another preferred method, please feel free to send me an email at jcdevera2011@gmail.com so that I can coordinate with you. All donations are fully tax-deductible. FLLA, a program of People for the American Way Foundation, is a registered 501(c)3. If you choose to donate, please let me know so that I can send you a small token of my appreciation!

Thank you for reading this far and for your support, it means so much to me.

With love and gratitude,
JC De Vera

Reliving a Part of My Childhood.

Reliving a Part of My Childhood.

Because this was everything last night at the VMA’s. Die-hard *NSYNC fan forever. And my fave, JT, definitely stole the show.

Must-Watch: Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale StationToday, I finally got around to watching the movie that a whole bunch of folks have been talking about. And today was the first time in a long time that I sincerely let tears run down my face after watching a movie. It’s almost eerie how timely this movie was released, especially in the wake of the Trayvon Martin ruling. While folks may already know the inevitable outcome of the movie, the beautiful character development and raw emotions paint the context behind the hurt and pain that so many folks felt after this incident.

I’m no film expert, so I’ll keep this short. All I know is that when a movie is able to draw me in, pull at my heartstrings, and uncover so many of my deep emotions – it’s doing something right. So, I urge y’all to roll out to the nearest theater playing this film, and experience it for yourself. The intricate society we live in needs more people who speak truth to power. And there is no better opportunity than understanding the realities behind the life of a complex man like Oscar Grant and the criminal injustice system that fails to protect and serve all people equally.

Heavy heart, but hopeful spirit. Rest in Power, Oscar Grant.

No Justice, No Peace.

My heart is heavy, my mind is numb. The realities of America are coming at me full force. At times, I’m unable to comprehend, much less articulate the thoughts and feelings rushing through my head and heart. I think of Trayvon. I think of myself. I think of the past – of my experiences hearing internalized racism from my own family. I think of the current day – the ensuing aftermath of a preposterous, despicable verdict. I think of the future – the work we need to do to radically shift paradigms to liberate our minds of hate and prejudice.

When I first got word of the no guilty verdict, I was walking back to my car from the mall. I was speechless. I was supposed to head straight to my aunt’s house for my uncle’s rosary prayer, but instead I found myself glued to my phone in my car, perusing all my social media feeds to read what folks had to say about it. Undoubtedly, my mind was already made up about how I would’ve liked this case to be ruled – AT LEAST manslaughter. Damn, was I wrong, but I wasn’t completely surprised. A part of me was holding onto the hope that maybe, just maybe our judicial system would do something right. The fact of the matter was clear – a wannabe cop unnecessarily shot and killed an innocent young man. He was told to stay in his car by police dispatchers, yet he refused and decided to take authority into his own hands. But let’s back track to what prompted this altercation in the first place. He did this because he saw a young man of color, wearing a hoodie and carrying a bag of Skittles, and automatically thought to himself – “well, he’s up to no good.” Because in a white supremacist society, so many minds are programmed to think that brown and black equals threatening, dangerous, and up to no good. You see, the ruling on the Zimmerman trial isn’t that surprising because our so-called justice system was never set-up and created for people of color to succeed, it was devised for us to fail. And so when I think of Trayvon, I think of the countless other victims of our criminal injustice system, who just like Trayvon, have been singled out because of the color of their skin. And when people say that race shouldn’t matter, and that we need to move past this notion, I must respectfully decline and say “No, it does, and we need to talk about it.” How can we NOT talk about race in the wake of this ruling? If Trayvon Martin had been born white, he would still be alive today, and that has been established beyond all reasonable doubt. This injustice system built by the founding (white) fathers of this country in the context of slavery, was never meant to protect people of color. I think of myself as a man of color, my black and brown friends, and the preconceived notions people have of us. These need to be talked about, understood, and dispelled. Because when our minds are filled with prejudiced notions, instead of an intent for understanding and compassion, we miss opportunities to learn about the real stories behind the colors of our skin.

As I headed to my aunt’s house, I started reflecting back to my own upbringing as a child. I need to put this out there: we cannot and should not reserve the “racist” label exclusively to white folks. It’s not a black and white issue. Racism exists across all spectrum of skin color. And my family is no exception. Growing up, I was told to stay away from black folks. Some of the answers I received when I asked why was because black folks were apparently “wild, dangerous, and unintelligent.” Whoa, where did my family get those ideas from? There are a whole slew of explanations – colonial mentality, the mass media, gossip and hearsay – but what’s important is that someway, somehow, some members of family actually believed what they heard without seeking to understand. I then started to think about my personal responsibility as a UCLA grad who spent so much time in anti-oppression spaces. What am I going to do about this? And while the process has been slow and difficult, I’m beginning to check friends and family back home on these kinds of issues, and challenge them to shift their attitudes towards one with a compelling need for understanding and compassion. “Each one, teach one.”

People are mad. I know I hella am. But fighting fire with fire will only exacerbate and prolong what we need to do to heal. I’m hearing the peaceful protests turning violent. Smashed windows of local businesses owned by people of color in Oakland. While this brings attention to the issue, these acts do more harm than good. Instead, we need to acknowledge our feelings. We’re hurt. We feel beaten once again by this system. There have been countless others like Trayvon who have not been served justice. We are frustrated because this system continues to be fucked up, while others are disillusioned to believe that race doesn’t matter anymore because we have so-called civil rights and there’s a black president in the White House. So let’s take these feelings of hurt and anger, and convert them into the energy we’ll need to heal. Our communities are being attacked at all fronts. Beyond racial tensions, we’ve been recently hit with a wide range of blows – from the weakening of affirmative action to key sections of the Voting Right Act being struck down.

Now, more than ever, is an important time for us to undertake the challenging task of building bridges across communities. This doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve experienced firsthand the frustrations and disagreements that occur when folks of different backgrounds come together in one room. It’s difficult, but necessary. We’re in need of a movement and revolution – one that points to the inevitable future of this nation – that people of color will soon make up the majority of these United States, that our lives matter, and that in order for this country to succeed, our communities need to be given the opportunities to do so. We need to work hand-in-hand to educate and engage our communities, develop leaders to become the changemakers in different sectors and industries, and have more people who look like us and understand us in all branches of government. And more often than not, this change starts with you and I – by having difficult conversations coming from a place of love, compassion, and understanding. To talk about what it means to live in the United States as a (fill in your own blank). We need to challenge each other, even the most difficult ones, like our own parents. We may not always agree, but we can always seek to understand.

We have a long way to go. Let the tears and anger out today. But tomorrow and everyday after, it’s back to organizing and educating. For how long, we may never know. But until our world is rid of the permeating hate, ignorance, and injustice affecting our human psyche, we have an everyday job and obligation. With no justice, there’s no peace. Let’s continue shaking this world to wake up – for Trayvon, for the countless others who have been served injustice, for our communities, and for the vitality and hope for future generations.

No Justice, No Peace

Simple Things: Never Take Your Health for Granted

I never thought I'd have to buy these in my 20s.

Wait, when did I turn 50?

Growing up, I became familiar with the usual minty smell of Bengay that my 50-year-old uncle applied to his back every night to relieve his aches. Never thought I’d have to do the same as a 23-year-old.

A little while ago, I started feeling a sharp pain in my lower back, but the wannabe tough guy in me shrugged it off thinking I just over-exerted myself while lifting weights. The pain’s still there, and it’s not getting any better, which prompted me to rush to Target today to buy some cream and patches.

The pain can be excruciating depending on my posture. Standing up tall is fine, but bending over to pick something off the floor is death. And this is coming from someone that enjoys 5K runs and hot yoga poses. It sucks having the urge to work out and lift some weights, but knowing you can’t and shouldn’t.

That’s when I started thinking about aging. I read online that 80% of people will experience some type of back pain in their life (envious to the nth degree of the 20% that won’t). Everyday I’m reminded how precious life is, and to a great extent, that depends on your own personal health. I can only begin to fathom what it must be like when 60-somethings wake up to intense back pain everyday, and can barely bend forward without wincing in pain to pick up something as light as a pencil. What would the quality of life be like then? Would you want to keep going? Or would the overbearing pain force you to submit, especially when it becomes too difficult to do your usual everyday activities.

As a 20-something, I often lose sight of the blessings of my health and youth. We say we only have one life to live, but much of that life depends on how healthy you are. So do the things that will keep you healthy: get regular check-ups, exercise regularly, eat healthy, respond quickly to any irregularities you feel in your body. Health is one of life’s simple things, and we should never take it for granted. And you definitely don’t want serious back pains at 23.

If you get a whiff of an intense minty sensation in your nostrils as I walk by in the coming days, that’ll be the smell of me healing. Don’t mind me :]

WordPress

Kinda excited to see where this’ll go. 

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