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  • Erin Walker

Embracing Advocacy: My Journey at the CalSAC Challenge with Oakland's Youth Emerging Leaders

Erin Walker, BACR's Expanded Learning Coordinator and Summer Program Specialist at Oakland Technical High School, recounts her impactful journey with four young leaders to the CALSAC challenge in Sacramento. From months of preparation to engaging in meaningful discussions at the event, Erin and her team showcased the importance of after-school programs through personal experiences and advocacy efforts.

On the morning of March 11, 2024, at Oakland Technical HS, I had the privilege of accompanying four inspiring young leaders on their first trip to the CALSAC challenge in Sacramento in a Black Tie shuttle bus! After months of preparation, including attending TACA (Teens Advocating for Civic Action) meetings and participating in Zoom discussions with CALSAC team members, we gained valuable insights into our community's issues and learned effective strategies for engaging with state legislatures. Despite feeling a bit nervous, our team approached the challenge with courage and determination!



From left to right: Youth Facilitators Aaliyah Willis (9th), Niani Johnson (9th), and Ma'Chond Davis (9th).

We arrived safely at the Holiday Inn. As soon as we touched base, it was straight to business. Our school site was asked to be one of the team leads. My youth and I split up for a short period of time to go over logistics on our ends as youth and adult leads. Once we were all clear on our roles and next steps for the Rally Day, it was time for the Opening Plenary. There we heard from Expanded Learning pioneers from all across CA. Youth leaders told their stories and how important it was to keep funding in After School Programs. We also heard from a panel of instructors and program managers who continue to advocate for out-of-school programming every day. Later that evening, my students and I attended the Beats and Brushstrokes Gala where we networked with organizations and leaders from other agencies. We all had an opportunity to make beats with LAX from Today’s Future Sound and even got some cool bucket hats! I also connected with Phyllis from AHC (Attitudinal Healing Connection) and talked about bringing the arts back to our school sites. 


I currently work as the Expanded Learning Coordinator at my former HS, Oakland Tech. During HS I experienced the full benefit of after school programs. It literally got me where I am today. As a true beneficiary of his hard work, I was honored to present the “Trailblazer for Afterschool Excellence” Award to the honorable Mayor Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento. To be able to present such an award in front of that huge audience, in front of my students, in front of my team, and renowned colleagues was a pivotal moment for me. I was proud to represent not only myself, but my community, students, and my school. That moment alone expressed how significant the Expanded Learning Program is and how it has the potential to influence generations of young minds who will turn into great leaders in the future. 


In middle from left to right, at the Opening Plenary, Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Erin Walker after Walker's speech, presenting Mayor Steinberg with the “Trailblazer for After School Excellence” Award.

Oakland Tech’s TACA team also received many high honors throughout the challenge. It was amazing to see them step into their leadership roles with confidence and much personality. Participants appreciated the energy they brought to the space. Niani, Aaliyah, Jaida, and Ma’Chond received compliments from “It was really fun!!!” and “Very fun the people in charge made it enjoyable” to “Very cool! 5 stars”! They appreciated the love they received as it inspired them to want to go further down the path of leadership. Everyone left with the strong sentiment of “I can do this”.

 

In middle from left to right. Ma'Chond Davis (9th), Aaliyah Willis (9th), Niani Johnson (9th), and Jaida Underwood (10th), facilitating the Advocacy Training Track: Youth Advocates training at the CALSAC challenge March 11th.

That night, my crew and I made sure to get enough rest in our pleasantly accommodated hotel rooms at the Holiday Inn. We enjoyed the amazing buffet breakfast the following morning. We then marched with fellow advocates to the state capital. The rally was something to see. Powerful posters created by youth leaders read “I 💙After School " and “Afterschool Saves Lives”. We marched with street performers and noise makers. Our cheers of “AFTER SCHOOL IS HERE TO STAY” and “AFTER SCHOOL ALL THE WAY” roared through the streets of Sacramento. I know for a fact the impact was made in the legislative meetings. Students went in there with passion and a full understanding of why Expanded Learning holds such significance in their lives. To them, after school is a place for social, emotional, mental, and physical support. A place where students feel safe to express themselves where opportunities are endless. After successful meetings we were able to collect business cards and make plans for legislative visits! During our visit with state legislatures, our youth leaders gained insight on how state priorities directly impact them. 


From left to right: Jaida Underwood (10th), Erin Walker (Oakland Tech Site Coordinator), Ma’Chond Davis (9th), Niani Johnson (9th), Aaliyah Willis (9th) at the Advocacy Training Track: Youth Advocates training.

All in all it was an amazing experience. It was refreshing to see the students interact with like minded individuals. Niani expressed that she was blown away by the fact that “everyone had the same goal in mind: to see these children prosper”. Despite being surrounded by new people away from home, Niani and her peers felt safe. They were proud to uplift their voice and others. I feel this event opened their eyes to what their future could look like if they continue on with Expanded Learning.  It was an amazing time filled with memories we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.


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