STOCKTON — Young inspiring activists shared their views of growing up in Stockton and how the city could improve during a townhall meeting on Saturday afternoon at Franklin High School.
Fifty people gathered inside the east Stockton school’s auditorium for the three-hour “State of Our Youth” meeting that featured panel discussions, spoken word performances and was emceed by former Record columnist Michael Fitzgerald.
“Stockton has a lot of things going for it, but there could be so much more,” he said in his opening remarks.
“We’re not here today to be PR people. We’re here today to be civic doctors, not merely to diagnose Stockton’s aches and pains, but what’s more important, to prescribe the cures the long overdue solutions and to celebrate the people who are working on those cures and delivering them.”
The event was organized by George Koster, who was raised in Stockton and now lives in San Francisco as a producer.
He lead the creation of the 13-part radio documentary “From Bankruptcy to Reinvention — The City of Stockton.”
After listening to stories featured in the project, he wanted to bring the people who participated in the radio documentary back together. Those featured in the radio series included Mayor Michael Tubbs, Nicholas Hatten with the San Joaquin Pride Center, Stockton Unified School Board President Lange Luntao and youth advocate Jasmine Dellafosse.
“My main goal is to identify the issues facing Stockton, the solutions that people have been working on, as well as new solutions that people can come together with — and most importantly for people in the community to step up and participate,” Koster told The Record.
The first panel discussion featured Gerdon Donaire, Rogelio Vivero, Ajala Lee, Tafari Lee, Jonny Barrios, Peter Elias, Tyla Lovely Cotton and Eric Zuniga with topics ranging from crime, police relations, homelessness, affordable housing and the support of a California State University, Stockton campus.
Answers have been edited for context and length.
How is Stockton in terms of youth culture; do you have activities that are positive, fun, reflect who you are and what you want to do?
Zuniga (Fathers & Families of San Joaquin): “At my old school at Elmwood Elementary they got a lot of activities now for the students. Back then we had basketball, but now they have softball, soccer, volleyball, baseball … that’s big for our youth because it shows them a new path to get out of the streets and not be in the streets. But at Franklin (High), they have all the sports (but) they lack of counseling, I see a lot of students who need help.”
Barrios (student at Weston Ranch High School): “I feel like Stockton has a lot for our youth, but it doesn’t mean it has enough. It doesn’t have enough safe areas, it’s kind of quiet area for the youth, there’s not much places to go have a quality good time with friends. I would like to see more community centers like the YMCA.”
Do you feel safe in Stockton? Do you feel that the police are on your side and treat you with respect?
Tafari Lee (sophomore at Stockton Collegiate School): “I do feel safe downtown, I’m always downtown. At night it’s like I’m not necessarily fearing of anything, I’m more like cautious it’s not that I know something is going to happen, it’s that you know something could happen … The answer to (the second question) is not really. So at my school we eat off campus during lunch and I’ll be playing music with my friends. One time there were cops on a bicycle and they pulled up and sat on the corner and waited until we got back into class, they followed us across the street even though we weren’t doing anything.”
Cotton, (Franklin High graduate): “I don’t think there’s anything they can do, you can’t change somebody and how they feel. It’s all over the news that police do things for no reason and nothing has changed yet.” Cotton admitted she was unaware of the Stockton Police Department’s reconciliation program and how protocols have changed in officer-involved-shootings, for example.
What about the homelessness, what do we do about that?
Cotton: “There’s a lot you can do with the homeless people. You could help them get into shelters; there’s a lot of abandoned buildings you could bring back to life and make them into shelters; you could start a program for the homeless and help them get their lives together, but instead you judge them. I see a lot of police pick a few homeless people up and instead we could just help them.”
What do we do about Stockton’s economy and affordable housing, deep poverty, any thoughts?
Vivero (Edison High graduate): “I lived my entire life in the Conway Homes and my mom, she’s a stay-at-home mom and my dad is an agricultural worker who works in the fields and with the rent going up, it’s a lot harder now at times for my parents to pay their bills on time and they struggle with just the rent itself. I come from a low-income background, and the rent is going up and its very evident, you can see it and its very hard to find means to pay for rent when it keeps going up. The building of a CSU Stockton would help a lot especially for those that are low-income, it is having that mind goal in a sense when you see it you have a future ahead of you.”
To listen to episodes of “From Bankruptcy to Reinvention — The City of Stockton,” visit https://georgekoster.com/voices-of-the-community/stockton.