Sunday, March 11, 2007

Letter to EOC and Avenues Project Leaders

Dear East Oakland Community and Avenues Project,

When I was about 5 or 6 years old, I used to look down at my feet and notice how near they seemed to my reach. I was well aware that in time that would change, and that with this change will come a number of phases and events in my life. I always tried to imagine in my head, as if looking back into a memory, what those events would look like and how I will respond to and become shaped by the challenges I would face. I knew at an earlier age that life was going to be hard, and that the choices I would make in my life would not be for my own selfish benefit. Today I look down at my size 9 feet, 5 foot 5 inches below, and look back at the years I’ve survived and how I’ve lived my life. As I break myself open, I count the rings and marks like a severed tree trunk, remembering the moments that have challenged and strengthened me throughout my life.

I’ve survived growing up in a home of unchallenged domestic violence, I’ve survived teaching for years in New York with no guidance and no support, I’ve survived cleaning bathrooms, floors, and windows in the San Francisco SOMA district in exchange for rent at a hostel after leaving my family and a crying mother in New York City at merely 20 years old, I’ve survived a physically abusive lover for two years, I’ve survived three universities through sacrificing having a life to keep up a damn 3.7 GPA, I’ve survived being sexually manipulated by a naïvely trusted professor and a high regarded community member, I’ve survived being a queer woman of color in a straight white man’s world. While all of these experiences have helped me, in harsh ways, to gain some of the strength and wisdom I need to stay unafraid to walk towards freedom, no event in my life has challenged me more, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, than East Oakland Community High School and the Avenues Project.

The opportunity came about in a way that felt unmistakably predestined along the proper path in my life. I went to a conference in Oakland on education and immigrant rights to meet Luis Garden Acosta of the Young Lords Party, and was drawn to Cesar Cruz and the Richmond Making Changes Freedom School instead. I knew right away that I wanted to see the dream I had been in the process of imagining when I learned about the grassroots movement taking place on a family’s backyard in Richmond. It was a necessary and fulfilling sacrifice to take the Bart twice a week from San Francisco to Richmond to learn what it meant to participate in creating my own freedom. Cesar then told me about a job offer he had in Oakland, and asked me about 4 or 5 times to come join him and teach during the school day and after school. I was an overtime student at San Francisco State and I didn’t think I’d be able to carry the weight. I’m glad though, that Cesar didn’t let me say no. I didn’t know at the time that this was the school that Jeff Duncan-Andrade, the professor I had admired for his dedication and expertise in urban education, had been talking about teaching in himself. I also didn’t know, that I would come across a number of community members that I would hold in high regard for the rest of my life. A lot of things seemed to have fallen into their places for a significant reason.

EOC/ Avenues has been the only place that has challenged me to the utmost depth thus far. It was the only place that had allowed me to push harder than ever to give birth to visions for curriculum structure, putting theory into practice, and become myself: an educator who uses text as AK47’s against the intellectual apartheid of this oppressive society. For years I had dreamed of building a space for young soldiers of color to grow intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally, and here I found that someone was dreaming the same dream, and there I was participating in it. I was dead scared. What if I would face a challenge I could not overcome? What if I couldn’t yet give my students the education they deserve? What if I would find that I wasn’t strong enough yet to be the person I had wanted to be? EOC was the only opportunity I’ve had thus far to put my inner self to the test. It was not only the space that has helped me grow as an educator, as a leader, and as a person true to herself, but it has also taught me how to grow. For this I am grateful. I am also grateful that this movement challenges what many say is unlikely or impossible. Because of somebody else’s dream, my own dream feels like a tangible reality. I no longer feel that I would doubt myself in my ability to realize my goal. I am not only more aware and have a clearer sense of what my weaknesses are, but I’ve gained a set of tools and truths that will help me continue the process of self-transformation and building strength. EOC has truly helped me understand that it is only through facing my weaknesses that I will rediscover myself in the process of becoming.

Through EOC I’ve also come to understand how symbols of power can co-opt or stagnate a movement. Being an overtime student confuses you. It tricks you into thinking you are gaining truth, through acquiring false power. Veracious truth and power come through the conquest for freedom, and there is nothing that taught me this more than understanding what it means to conquer the oppressor through the minds of our youth. Every lesson taught with success was a battle won. It is an amazing privilege to observe the transformation I helped create within my classroom. I don’t know many people in my past who would ever think that Black and Brown students would be able to apply Frantz Fanon, Paulo Freire, Stephen Haymes, Andrea Smith, and concepts of structural violence and symbolic violence to their everyday lives, let alone visual documentation. I’ve begun to discover the power of critical art. Because of my experience in this movement, I have already proven many people I will encounter in my future wrong. The EOC movement has pushed me to take a giant leap down my chosen path.

I am not looking forward to graduate school. I face the same frustrations that my students do in transitioning into an institution usurped by systematic intellectual apartheid. I know that no university institution in that system will push me further along the path of freedom more than the community of EOC can. I’m infuriated that so-called educational institutions that perpetuate sexist, racist, and homophobic notions are allowed to exist while EOC and Avenues are being allowed to shut down. I was counting on the fact that the continuing progress that EOC and the Avenues Project make would be a testament to the survival of my own dream. But I am also furious at myself when I choose my own work at SF State over my work at EOC. And I’m enraged at the fact that I’m choosing my family and community in New York over my family and community in Oakland; that I am not choosing to stay to take a leadership role in continuing this effort. Today, I am still not sure if I am making the right choice, and I continued to think up ways to stay another year, thinking maybe I could defer grad school for a year to support the transition for EOC and Avenues. I thought up ways that I could try to convince my mom, who has been trying to flee an abusive husband, to come live in Oakland with me for a year. Still, I don’t know if this would have been the right decision to make. But it seems that for some reason(s) unknown, our leaders have chosen to conclude the dream of EOC and Avenues. This decision breaks my heart and I am truly deeply affected by it, although I feel that I am not in a place to push one decision or another, due to the fact that I’ve committed myself to be bound for New York.

Still, I am grateful to have had the privilege to be a part of this movement. This is a legacy that will, without question or doubt, continue with me back home. It has instilled in me a sense of the realities I will face in birthing my own dream. It has given me the opportunity to begin understanding the discipline needed to sustain such a dream. I have become aware of the variety of skills and support needed to nurture such a dream, and most importantly, EOC has taught me not to doubt my own ability to manifest into being visions stemming from my own conviction of freedom as a destined journey for my people. I thank the leaders and the community of EOC and Avenues for the right of passage from a naïve dreamer and visionary into a more aware and better mentally and spiritually equipped warrior for freedom. Whether it be through the “South Bronx Community High School” or the “Harlem Making Changes Freedom School” my future challenges will not have been successful without the love, wisdom, and risk that it took to build East Oakland Community High School and the Avenues Project. With all my heart and soul I thank you.

Rosa Cabrera

1 comment:

pomegranate queen said...

man, i missed reading your words. you are truly inspiring. i may not know you personally, but through your words, i can feel your sincerity, passion and beautiful intensity. keep doing your thing Rosa.
peace girl.