Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Via Oakland North

Youth Alive! tries to break cycle of violence in Oakland


Gutierrez interacts with students of Castlemont High School in Oakland.

 By Debora SilvaPosted

In a Castlemont High School classroom converted into a theater for the day, seven-year-old Junior returned home from school to face his parents after receiving a bad report card.

“How the hell did you get an ‘F’ in English?” the father asked. “Are you stupid?”

Junior kept his head down.

“You should act like a man,” the father said.

And that’s where Caheri Gutierrez, a 23-year-old woman who has dedicated her life to mentoring teenagers about causes and consequences of violence, interrupted the actors and paused the scene.
“How do you think a 7-year-old boy feels?” Gutierrez asked. “Give me some words, emotions.”
Members of the audience of teenage high school students shouted words from the back of the classroom.

“Scared,” said one student. “Hopelessness,” shouted others. “Suicidal,” someone said.
Gutierrez wrote the words on the board in red marker.

“And what were the very last few words that the dad said to the son?” she asked, as she walked around the classroom.

A handful of students yelled, “Act like a man!”

“Do you think that a 7-year-old boy knows how to act like a man?” she asked, raising her eyebrows. “And how do you think Junior’s dad learned how to act like a man? Maybe he was also put down by his father? It’s like a cycle.”

Gutierrez, a member of violence prevention group called Youth ALIVE!, organizes these weekly “Teens on Target” workshops to try and teach high school students about the cycle of violence – and to try and break it. The workshops offer tools to assist students in taking on leadership roles in violence prevention efforts.

“Violence, specifically gun violence, is something we have a lot in the city,” Gutierrez said. “If we don’t educate our kids, and ignore this issue, we are never going to solve it.”

Gutierrez’s workshops target youth that live in neighborhoods with high crime rates. The program is particularly meaningful in a neighborhood like deep East Oakland that sees higher violence compared to the city as a whole.

“I feel like raising awareness for a core group of students around violence prevention is very important to school and community change,” Castlemont Principal John Lynch said. “They build their leadership voice, their critical thinking around violence and their abilities to advocate for change with adults and peers.”

Castlemont students meet Gutierrez twice a week and participate in workshops with the goal of becoming “peer educators.” Gutierrez also works with students at Reach Academy, Elmhurst Community Prep and Roots International Academy, among other schools. At the end of the course, the students give presentations at middle schools in Oakland. They receive a monthly stipend for their work and gain bonuses for engaging in community events.

“The kids [from middle school] see these youth and they say, ‘Okay, he just told me the real facts about gun violence,’” Gutierrez said. “He is telling me that it’s not cool, so it might not be cool to do this. That makes the difference itself.”

TNT trained 25 Castlemont students last year, Gutierrez said. This year so far, 33 young people are getting prepared to engage in workshops in Oakland’s middle schools.

“Sometimes people of Oakland won’t listen to someone with a badge, a certificate, a degree from Stanford,” Gutierrez said. “They will listen to you if you have some credibility, if you look like them, talk like them.”

And Gutierrez is the kind of person who “is like them,” she said. An East Bay resident since she was 3 years old, she has experienced violence firsthand. In 2008, Gutierrez was riding in her friend’s car near San Leandro Boulevard and 98th Avenue when someone drove by and shot in their direction, hitting her in the jaw.

While hospitalized, Gutierrez met Tammy Cloud, a staff member with Youth ALIVE!. Cloud was conducting a program called Caught in the Crossfire, a hospital-based peer intervention program that supports youth who are recovering from violent injuries.

Gutierrez left the hospital after several months and multiple surgeries to reconstruct part of her face. With the support of Youth ALIVE! programs, she said, she gained strength to persevere.

“My mom is a Latino woman, immigrant, who didn’t really know how to speak English, how to navigate systems and services,” Gutierrez said. “There were so many services and resources that I could receive by being a victim. Youth ALIVE! helped me to find these services and to keep my life going.”

Gutierrez’s officially joined Youth ALIVE! as her first job after the shooting. She frequently visits schools to speak with kids about violence, from causes and consequences to solutions. For her, she said, the work is part of her own recovery process.

“I find that being here is like my therapy,” said Gutierrez, who still carries a scar on the right side of her jaw. “I get to process what happened to me. It keeps me going.”

While interacting with students brings healing for Gutierrez, teenagers at Castlemont say her presence provides comfort in their classroom.

“She understands your side of the story,” said Jazzmine Fromayan, 15, who joined the program because she was “tired of seeing family members and friends dying in the streets.”

“Some students don’t have the right role model to tell them about life, they don’t have a big brother or big sister to tell them, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that,’” Fromayan said. “Here, we all communicate in the same way.”

Youth ALIVE! is an organization based in Oakland that aims to intervene in the violence plaguing communities at risk. For more information about the organization, visit:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Moving In

 I received a ton of great news in a week. The publishing of my story and now the awesome news from my new landlord : the place is mine!

For a couple of months ive been searching high and low , east and west and finally I found a beautiful apartmen in a safe haven. One of my biggest concerns was location (I still have a hard time sleeping because of my PTSD ) I get really anxious at night. That is one of the reasons I moved out of Oakland into Castro Valley 4 years ago. The location of my new apartment is perfect for me in addition it is very spacious and cute.

 I feel like such an adult. But ive also realized that being an adult kinda SUCKS! So many bills and responsibilities, talk about a budget. Im ready to take it on though.

Well now the search for bathroom mats, couches, curtains and kitchen cooking things begins.

My second Holy Names High School experience

  I love Holy Names! The first time I set foot on that beautiful intricate campus was in 2003. I was an 8th grader at St.Anthony's Year Round School and was on a mission to find the perfect highschool. Unfortunately Holy Names was far beyond my mom's financial reach. I remember wishing that I could afford to go there. That fantasy never left me. 

In February I got an email from my supervisor telling me that a Holy Names engagement was forthcoming. All i could see where little hearts and party hats , I was too excited and honored! It was a great experience to come back as a young adult and now educate the girls of Holy Names.

The Holy Names High School ladies say Youth Alive rocks, I say Holy Names Rocks!!!!

HNHS Welcomes Youth Alive

A Student Reflection by Josie Icaza ’15

On Tuesday February 5, the girls of Holy Names High School had an assembly that that would touch all of their hearts. The assembly was entitled: “The Cycle of Violence”. It started off as any normal assembly. Then, Ms. Wujek introduced the group, Youth Alive. Three lovely people came from behind the curtain: Demetria Huntsman, Smooth Wickcliff, and Caheri Gutierrez. Youth Alive is a violence prevention group who spends a lot of their time helping the kids at Castlemont High School. “Everyone deserves equality of life,” they said. They spent the rest of the assembly demonstrating situations that are “hard for the human spirit to carry”, such as gender discrimination and abuse.

It never occurred to me before this assembly how destructive it is to use the term ‘act like a man’. Men are expected from a young age to ‘”act like a man.” But what does the general term mean? Youth Alive showed us exampled of how boys are expected to handle their problems on their own, even in situations they can’t win. When they fall and scrape their knee as a kid, they need to wipe their tears, and get over it. It made me think: if they’re expected to handle situations by themselves, does that mean they can use a weapon to help even up the odds? Also, if they can’t express sadness, does that mean they are allowed to resort to drinking away their problems, or replacing sadness with anger?

We then identified how a person in a violent household might feel: sadness, hopelessness, and a sense of being lost. Unfortunately, unless someone intervenes, the cycle of violence starts again when that person has kids.

The next two days were spent reflecting on what we heard, and learning about dating violence. Caheri was the group leader for the freshwoman and sophomores. She shared her personal story and brought the whole room to silent tears – every girl giving her 101% respect for what she had to go through. She taught us how to recognize the red flags in our relationships.  We learned that honeymoon, tension, eruption, and promise of change make up the cycle of dating violence.

The people of Youth Alive are doing truly amazing work. They brought so much insight to a subject that needs to be talked about, yet no one ever does. They are the change they want to see in the world. I am so grateful for their visit to Holy Names, because they left our community stronger and ready to help them make a difference.

Thank you Youth Alive, you rock.

Amazon Kindle Single

So the long awaited Amazon Kindle Single officially published today , a few minutes ago!
Go get your single , it is available for purchase and the best part is that its only $0.99
I cant tell you how ecstatic i am about this. My heart is pumping fast and I keep thinking about my mom and my brother, my sister and father. Also my family in Mexico ...wishing that my grandparents were alive to witness this accomplishment. It also makes me think of all of my friends and all of the people I know from Oakland who have experience a tragedy like mines and EVEN WORSE. If you are reading this now, I hope that you realize that YOU have a story too.

 I hope that with this project I am able to bring attention to the reality of my people and the needs of our city. I hope that this piece inspires youth in urban communities to ALWAYS move forward, even if they think that they never will never be able to.  I pledge to always speak up for my city, Oakland.

Thank you
 Mom, Tammy Cloud, Jim O'Brien, Julie the Paramedic, Highland Hospital, Youth Alive and to all of the people who have continued to support and encourage me.