East Palo Alto Shows Up to Speak Up
East Palo Alto faces a quintessentially Bay Arean constellation of challenges: escalating housing prices and declining affordability; gentrification associated with the displacement of longtime residents by well-paid tech workers; and a rising bay encroaching upon the densely populated, low-lying city near the foot of the Dumbarton Bridge.
Throw in a proposed new mixed-use development abutting vital marshlands already vulnerable to flooding and the stakes get even higher, says Roxana Franco, programs manager for Nuestra Casa de East Palo Alto. That’s why the nearly 20-year-old nonprofit is now working closely with current and longtime residents, many of them lower-income people of color, to give local context to climate change and sea-level rise, disaster preparedness, and — perhaps most importantly — civic engagement.
Through a 12-week program called the Environmental Justice Parent Academy, Nuestra Casa (“Our House”) is leading in-depth discussions about these and related issues among cohorts of African American, Pacific Islander, Latinx, and youth residents of East Palo Alto. All 85 participants, 75 of whom are parents, receive a stipend for their time and are encouraged to continue their work outside of the group.
“We have facilitators that reflect the community, and they’re also community elders here in East Palo Alto,” Franco says. “We try to make it about building communities and empowering our participants to sit at city council meetings and speak up. … We encourage them to show up to these meetings, and they feel more comfortable to be involved or at least show up.”
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