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Category Archives: 2012 Danny Vieira

The End?

Two days have passed since the Micah program has concluded. I’ve moved back to my family’s home in Union City and unpacked my things. I’ve begun to reconnect with friends that I haven’t seen all summer. Throughout this rapid change, a question has presented itself to me. What now? Does my Micah experience end after leaving West Oakland?

During our time in the program, each of the fellows was required to read the book Leadership for a Better World. In the final chapter of this book, the authors include an excerpt describing Annette Kolodny’s answer to the questions that I posed in the last paragraph:

“I think an education imposes a responsibility on you, that is, you are responsible for the knowledge you have… In other words, that body of knowledge has made you sensitive to those issues. If you walk out of that classroom without acting on those issues, then you are being irresponsible. If you see the society continuing to exclude or to ignore or to cause suffering in its own members and you do nothing to change it, then you are being irresponsible… It means finding a way to promote some kind of change. If you are not responsible for your knowledge, then what on earth are we teaching you for?”

Looking over these words again made the next step in my journey very clear to me. For these last weeks, my classroom has included my work at PJC, living intentionally in community, and calling West Oakland my home. The Micah program cannot end after leaving these things behind. The knowledge I’ve gained is something that I must take with me for the rest of my life. Knowing is no longer enough. What will define the success of this program is not what I accomplished during these last 8 weeks but instead how I will apply this valuable experience into my everyday life. I have a responsibility to live out the lessons I have learned throughout the entirety of the Micah Program. This being said, I’ve never been more excited for what the future has in store for me  🙂

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Posted by on July 25, 2012 in 2012 Danny Vieira

 

A Weekend Of Celebration

These last 8 weeks have been a period of growth for all four of the Micah fellows. We each stepped outside our comfort zones in the hope of improving the Bay Area community that we live in. To celebrate the progress we’ve made throughout the program, we treated ourselves to a dinner at the Elephant Bar and a showing of the Dark Knight.

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On Saturday, the day began with an individual reflection at Joaquin Miller park in the Oakland hills. Afterwards, the celebration of completing the program continued a with a visit to the Grand Lake Farmer’s Market. Free samples were everywhere. The sky was free of clouds. People crowded the small stands selling the freshly harvested local produce. Even on our last day, Treasha was quick to point out the noticeable differences between the Grand Lake community and the one we had lived in for the last 8 weeks. We ended Saturday with lunch at the pupuseria across the street from our home. Each of the Micah fellows reflected on the growth they’ve seen in themselves and others throughout the program. The next morning, Ryan hosted us for breakfast in the midst of all of the stress of moving out. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end this great experience.

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2012 in 2012 Danny Vieira

 

The Indirect Impact

I’ve been very honest with my housemates about my struggles with working behind a desk for these last 8 weeks. Prior to my Micah experience, I had never worked in an office setting before. I was unfamiliar with the expectations associated with working in this type of environment – business casual apparel, lack of mobility, etc. As time went on, I began to lose sight of what my purpose at PJC was. How am I making a difference by sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day and staring at a computer screen? Can what I am doing within these four walls change anything that is going on outside in the West Oakland Community?

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Slowly but surely, I learned that it did. Because of short staffing, I had to devote some of my time to the registration process at PJC’s summer camps. At first, it seemed similar to what I was already doing in my office, filing papers and not connecting with the community. As my doubts about my service were reaching their peak, students of mine from St. Martin de Porres School began walking through the doors of St. Patrick’s gym. My former students, who I worked with as a Bonner Leader during the 2011-2012 school year, greeted me with hugs and excitement. On a different day, I was asked to watch a child whose parents hadn’t arrived to pick him up yet. Giovanni sat with me in my office and became my little “assistant” for the few hours that he was there with me. He was given urgent assignments such as completing the maze in his coloring book and finding the latest games on cartoon network’s website. For two weeks, I helped plan a focus group for residents of the Campbell Village Housing community. At the focus group, we were blessed with the presence of 3 generations of one family: a child, her mother and her grandmother.

Moments like these have shown me why indirect service is so important. The community could not be served without organizing, planning and funding. These are all things that occur behind closed doors. Although working in an office may not have been the most exhilarating and stimulating job, I now realize how essential it is to helping the community. I now see that my work directly impacts community members like Giovanni, my former students and the residents of Campbell Village. I can leave the Micah Program knowing that I helped PJC change the lives of members of the West Oakland community.

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2012 in 2012 Danny Vieira

 
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BUILDing a Brighter Future

In these last 8 weeks, I’ve been asked to find and research different organizations in Oakland that could be beneficial in helping PJC develop a family resource center and apply for the Promise Neighborhood Grant. In my search, I came across the BUILD organization. This non-profit strives too improve the learning outcomes of youth who come from a low-income background.

How do they do this? They acknowledge that most high school students dropout because they’re bored, not because they’re incapable. BUILD uses entrepreneurship to reach out to these disengaged high school students. What is more attractive to teenagers than making money? The organization recruits students their freshman year of high school and helps them create a business plan with other classmates. Their sophomore year, the students create and implement the business that they planned the year before. As time goes on, BUILD incorporates more academic tutoring and counseling into the program. In their junior year, students manage their businesses while also receiving academic services such as SAT prep. When senior year hits, students in the BUILD program are guided in deciding which colleges they will apply to and seeking out the financial assitance and scholarships necessary for them to attend school the next year.

Does the program work? The BUILD impact truly seems to be making a difference in the lives of the young people that are involved in it. Students, who may have been on much more treacherous paths before the program, leave high school prepared for the next step on their journey – college. To date, 100% of the students that complete the BUILD program will graduate form high school. Of these students, 95% of them finish college. I encourage all of you to visit the website and do more research on how BUILD is making a difference in the community. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed…

http://www.build.org/

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2012 in 2012 Danny Vieira

 

BINGO

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Before my experience at the Prescott-Joseph Center (PJC) began, the word “Bingo” reminded me of the farmer’s dog whose name-o was also Bingo. B-I-N-G-O… I’m sure all of you remember. If asked what the word “bingo” reminds me of today, my answer would be entirely different.

For these last 8 weeks, I have been the staff member given the privilege to call the Bingo games for the senior citizens who visit PJC every other Wednesday of the month for our “Senior Lunch and Bingo”. This definitely wasn’t in my job description but I was happy to spend some time out of my office interacting with the elderly of the community. Before calling my first game, a colleague of mine informed me that the seniors are very particular about who calls their games. She told me not to be offended if they asked me to stop calling. My excitement for this bi-monthly event immediately turned into anxiety. Would they like me? Should I politely decline the opportunity before I’m booed out of the bingo room? I decided to look past this apprehension and call the game. To my surprise, I was allowed to call every game that day.

The next Bingo, I planned to silently deny the job of being the Bingo caller so that I’d quit while I’m still ahead. The seniors didn’t allow me to do this. Not only did they remember who I was, but they were also asking for the “intern boy” who called the game 2 weeks earlier. So far, I’ve called 4 games for the elderly who come to the Bingo lunches. These lunches have been more than a simple break from work. These seniors have truly taught me a lot about the West Oakland Community and a generation that is often overlooked. I got to celebrate Ms. Catherine’s 95th birthday with her. I frequently see Ms. Thelma as I bike to work or stop at the 7th Street Liquor store to grab an iced coffee. These 10 or 12 women who would find their way to PJC every 2 weeks have made my experience that much more enjoyable.

Recently, an unexpected dilemma has presented itself to my housemates and I. What will we do with the extra money that we did not use on our groceries for every week? As a group, we each agreed that we’d like to give back to the non-profits we’ve served at for the last 8 weeks. At first, I could not decide what to do with these extra funds. What could I give to PJC that would outlast my stay there? After thinking for a while, the answer presented itself to me. I would buy a new BINGO set for the seniors who visit PJC every 2 weeks. Unannounced to them, I had been using an incomplete BINGO set for the 4 events that I have called. The next caller won’t have to lie and pretend to call the numbers I-26 and I-28. The seniors won’t have to use black beans as markers. Hopefully, my gift will make them as happy as they’ve made me these last 8 weeks.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2012 in 2012 Danny Vieira

 

The Mountain of Faith

Throughout these last 7 weeks, I’ve made a conscious effort to explore the different denominations of Christianity. I attended services at two different churches and participated in a Bible Study with my three housemates. When entering into the program, I learned that although all of the Micah fellows are Christians, I am the only member of the group who identifies as a practicing Catholic. Because of this, I’ve spoken frequently with my housemates about their faith and how they choose to practice Christianity. It was easy to list the differences in how we relate to our faiths. Where as I am personally more drawn to looking for God in my experiences and the people around me, other housemates of mine use the Bible, or Word of God, to find strength and ground themselves in the complex and (arguably) not very God-friendly society that we live in today. Some express their faith more outwardly while others choose to have it be a more inward experience. The list of differences continues to go on…

In the past, I have always seen these differences as something negative. Rather than recognizing that they are all believers in Christ’s resurrection, people, including myself, have chosen to dwell on the small practices and beliefs that differ in each denomination or Church. I believe that the attitude around this issue needs to change. When going out and doing his ministry, Jesus’ goal was to appeal to as many people as possible. He didn’t require that his followers were a certain gender or came from a specific religious background. Jesus wanted to include everyone. Having different denominations within Christianity allows His vision to come true. This development allowed Christianity to reflect the diversity that was, and always will be, present in this world. The question about the differences in denominations should no longer be “Who is more right than the other?” The better question is “What works best for you?” We must come to accept that differences will always be present in every aspect of our lives, especially the ways we choose to practice our faith.

Yesterday, our last Sunday in the Micah Fellowship Program, two housemates and I chose to attend the 10am service at Shiloh Church in East Oakland. Although the worship and preaching style was unfamiliar to me, I looked at the congregation around me and saw faith and belief everywhere I looked. My new attitude about the beauty of the diversity within Christianity was being manifested right in front of my eyes. I could not have asked for a better way to end my faith journey in this program. I will end this blog with the thoughts of my Major Religions class teacher in high school.

He once heard that there is a mountain that every person attempts to climb throughout his or her lifetime. At the top of this mountain lies spiritual salvation. There are several different paths to reach this wonderful place. Some are steeper than others. Some take longer to climb. Some of us who reach the top may stumble and fall from its glory. All people must choose the path that best fits them. What’s important is not how we get to the top but rather that we get there at all.

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Posted by on July 16, 2012 in 2012 Danny Vieira

 

The Many Faces of West Oakland

          This past weekend I got the opportunity to collect surveys for a local non-profit that is focused on improving the outcomes of Oakland Schools. On this neighborhood walk, I went door to door to ask West Oakland residents about their opinion of the Oakland Unified School District. To my surprise, not very many people opened their doors to my ring of the doorbell or knocks at the door. Of the hundreds of houses I visited, I was only able to collect 4 surveys.  Though I only collected four surveys, the men and women I met were a true representation of the diversity that resides within the houses of West Oakland. These are their stories…

A Single Mother

            The first person who opened her door to me was a young African American woman. As I asked her questions about the school system, her son runs to the door to see the person his mom is speaking with. After sending him back inside, she tells me that her son attends a local charter school because of her lack of faith in the West Oakland elementary schools. She believes that teachers must care about their students in order for them to succeed in the school system. At the end of every survey, we ask each participant to identify his or her top concerns for the city of Oakland. Her response to this final question caught me off guard. She identified a need to address drugs and crimes within the neighborhood. She also highlighted the lack of grocery stores in her community. Instead, she sees a liquor store on every street corner. She believes all of these issues are connected to the failure of educating the youth in her community. This woman, in one or two sentences, was able to summarize the issues that I had been researching at the Prescott-Joseph Center for the last 7 weeks. It’s disheartening to know that the community is aware of the problems in the neighborhood but yet nothing seems to change.

A Young, White Woman

            As I was walking down Mandela Parkway, I saw a Caucasian woman, most likely in her early 30s, and a friend of hers cleaning up her backyard. Luckily, she conveniently strolled into her front yard as I passed her home. Though reluctant at first, she agreed to take a few minutes of her time to discuss the current issues of Oakland schools with me. Slowly, her annoyed demeanor faded away and she became more willing and eager to talk to me. She stressed that correcting the school system would have a direct effect on the condition of the neighborhood. Because there is an election this year, I asked each participant in the survey of what they would like to see in an elected school board member. Although she herself is not a parent, she believed that the official elected for their district should be a parent himself or herself. If she were a parent, she’d feel most comfortable trusting a leader who understood the love and care a child needs to be successful in the future.

An Elderly Man

            I knock on a door and am greeted by an older African American man. From the start, he wanted to speak with me. When asking him of what needed to change, he mentioned how religion and faith needs to be integrated into public schools. We need to “Christianize” the schools in order to see better outcomes in the school system. At this moment I asked myself, “What have I gotten myself into?” As our conversation continued, his idea began to seem less and less extreme. What he was describing to me was a school that placed an importance on values and morals in its students. For himself, he found this in his religion and believes that this would be the most effective way to transform the school system.

A McClymonds Student

            The last person I spoke to left me with a strong sense of hope. A young, 17 year old teenage girl answers the door because her mother is not available. She is eager to talk about the issues that her community faces. Like the first mother I spoke with, she reiterates how essential it is for students to know that their teachers care about them. This drives students to do more. When asking her where she receives most of her information about issues in the community, she mentions her involvement in a leadership group at her school – McClymonds High School. In the group, they talk about these issues and possible solutions for the future. Because of the guidance this group has given her, she plans to apply to colleges in the fall and vote in the upcoming election that conveniently comes a month after her birthday. Teenagers like this young women that I just met are the future of West Oakland. They can be the generation that creates change and ends the cycle of misfortune that has plagued this community.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2012 in 2012 Danny Vieira