President & CEO
The Courage to Love
When Youth UpRising (YU) opened its doors in May 2005, it marked a transformation: the transformation of an abandoned supermarket into a bustling, 25,000 square-foot state-of-the-art facility offering comprehensive integrated programs and services to young people from communities ravaged by longstanding disinvestment. In East Oakland, where YU is located, poverty is entrenched, violence is high, and needs have gone unmet for generations. So, the conversion of this physical space from one of blight to a thriving community hub serves as a symbol of the transformative power that is at the heart of YU’s work.In the decade since opening, we have consistently demonstrated, through the success of hundreds of young people who have utilized our programs and gone on to become successful adults, that investing in people and places long undeserved and neglected can truly transform lives. Empowering youth to transform their own lives builds their capacity to impact their communities. Youth leadership development is essential as we work to transform urban communities from spaces of scarcity and instability to areas of abundance and vitality.
Our approach to community transformation centers young people and strives for personal transformation, systems change, and community economic development. Underlying our approach is a vital value sorely lacking in most community “revitalization” or “redevelopment” programs: love. Without an approach built on a foundation of love, compassion, and respect for the residents of economically distressed and violence-plagued areas, attempts at improving material conditions run the risk of displacing the community members who should rightly benefit from such efforts. Local residents are the heart and soul of communities like East Oakland. Our residents maintain dignity despite the catastrophic consequences of public-systems failure and the dismantling of the U.S. industrial sector, which once sustained local communities with jobs and a decent middle-class standard of living. Whereas East Oakland once existed as a pillar of working-class strength, today it stands at the epicenter of violence. The causes of our current condition are broad and rooted in the intersected impacts of private-sector decline and uncoordinated government programs. YU understands that the complexities of the issues demand broad and integrated solutions. We must all accept responsibility for our collective failure to support our youth with safe neighborhoods, good schools, and hopeful futures. In other words, the problems of East Oakland and areas like it are not just the problem of “those people over there.” We are all implicated in and will feel the consequences of the societal breakdowns that led us to this moment, and we all must contribute to strengthening the communities hardest hit by these breakdowns.
Social trauma affects communities the same way personal trauma affects individuals. Hope diminishes and unhealthy behaviors become normalized as ways to cope with life circumstances that often feel unbearable. The only way to counteract and heal this trauma is to cultivate love—love of self and love of community, without judgment. This kind of love involves risk and requires courage. It is risky to love in the face of heartbreaking loss. For YU and the community we serve, this means, quite literally, loving despite losing lives to violence or other preventable conditions linked to poverty and despair. But what fortifies us in the work we do—the work of opening opportunities for young people by building skills, improving systems, and investing in the places they live—is the stunning resilience young people model for us every day.
Daily, youth come into YU full of energy, creativity, and a desire to “come up” against the odds. This is the spirit of East Oakland, and it is driven by our youth. Our job is simply to nurture youths’ innate capacities to change the world.
With love and gratitude,