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The Citizen

Leadership & Service Lessons: Race, Place, & Equity in California’s Central Valley

By Angie McPhaul, MPP2

Last spring, MPP1s Alicia Olivarez and Juana Hernandez designed and led the Leadership Service Seminar “Race, Place, and Equity: the California Central Valley.” Sponsored by HKS faculty member Marshall Ganz and funded by the Office of Degree Programs and Student Affairs and the Center for Public Leadership, the Leadership Service Seminar consisted of an on-campus study group and a week-long field visit to the California communities of Fresno, Merced, and Stockton.  The seminar engaged 12 students from across HKS degree programs in applying a racial equity framework to better understand complex social policy issue areas affecting the region. Here, one LSS participant, Angie McPhaul (MPP2) relays her experience and takeaways from the trip.

Right after finals last Spring, I packed my bags, alongside 11 other HKS’ers, for sunny Fresno, California. With one week, two vans, and many Central Valley natives as our guides, we sought to learn more about how issues of education and race play out in the agricultural center of California.

Over seven days, we met with stakeholders across the region, from a grant-making foundation to universities to student-led advocacy organizations. In our first visit, Sarah Reyes of The California Endowment made clear that compared to the urban centers in California, there is less philanthropic funding in the Central Valley region to support a vibrant nonprofit sector.

Partly in response to the more constrained availability of funding, those committed to education-related advocacy and programs in the Central Valley have become creative and rely on young people to lead a lot of work. Indeed, at 26, I was old compared to a number of the leaders we met.  For example, we met Miriam Hernandez at the Youth Leadership Institute, who, at 17, led a group of high school students in an advocacy campaign that changed the discipline policy in Fresno Unified School District. She and other students relentlessly lobbied the Board of Education to change the policy from one that relied on suspensions and expulsions for nonviolent discipline issues to one that employs restorative justice practices, which provides mental health and other counseling services to students.

We also met with Councilman Michael Tubbs of Stockton, California, who, when he was elected, was the youngest elected official in the nation.  He spoke passionately about his hometown and how the extent of Stockton’s challenges have required that unlikely coalitions come together to innovate.

And we were blown away by the college students we met at University of California, Merced. Students like Dalton Rogers and Gustavo Flores are stepping up to shape this newest University of California campus into one that is bold about supporting DREAMers and advancing community-based research in the Central Valley.

I walked away feeling very hopeful about the future of the Central Valley (and it wasn’t just because of all delicious meals and evening karaoke sessions).  I was heartened to see the type of authentic public-service leadership to which we aspire at HKS on display throughout Fresno, Merced, and Stockton.