When I was a kid, my local park was my second home. I perfected my jump shot and gooooooooooal celebration there. I tried to look cool waiting for the girl I liked to walk home from school through the park. I tested my gardening skills in our park. I even studied physics and engineering as I built and destroyed a ton of creations in the park. I needed the park. I loved the park. I still love parks.
This fondness for parks is what took me to my job as the Executive Director of the LA Neighborhood Trust (Neighborhood Land Trust).
I wanted to fight for low-income kids of color who loved and needed parks just as much as I did when I was a kid. This desire is also what led me to fight for Prop 68 when it was on the California ballot last year.
At the time, I remember writing about Prop 68, working with my organization to lead community education and outreach events, and speaking out to the press about why we needed this initiative to pass. I was featured on the Trust for Public Land website saying that for far too many Californians finding a place to go outside was not attainable. More than half of Los Angeles County residents do not have a park within a 10-minute walk of home. I do not know what growing up would be like for me if my local park was not a walk or bike ride away. Did I mention my amazing goal celebration?
My other love in urban planning and environmentalism has been transportation. I was always amazed by how few people saw the intersection of these two passions. Whether I was organizing in South LA, Bayview in the Bay area or my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska being able access community resources is an issue that transcends geography. Being able to walk or bike to a park is something that many people take for granted. But the inability of many low-income people and people of color to make those trips to a local park is just one way that communities of color throughout California have been excluded from the outdoors. I supported Prop 68 and I continue to support park equity because prioritizing funding for parks in high-need areas is a needed step toward addressing park inequities. These inequities are built on generations of institutional racism and oppression.
I would not have been able to fight this racism and oppression without mentors and role models like Elva Yañez and Manal Aboelata who have been fighting for park equity before it many even knew what to call it. I would not have fully understood the local and state level layers to this work without the patience and guidance of friends like Amy Lethbridge and Ane Deister. I certainly would not have had the fortitude for this struggle without peers like Yvette Lopez-Ledesma, Keshia Sexton, Scott Chan or Anisha Hingorani. These are just a few of the folks who helped me understand how my love of biking and walking to my local parks was something that I should never take for granted. They helped me realize that far too many young people in California do have the ability to build these same memories.
But it is not too late. I have a son, Atei, who will turn 10 months old on the same day that the California State Parks Foundation is honoring me with the Grassroots Champion Award.
I know that Elva, Manal, Amy, Ane, Yvette, Keshia, Scott, Anisha and so many others fought for Prop 68 and continue to fight for park equity for my son. Atei is growing up in a South LA neighborhood where there is not a park he can currently bike or walk to easily. That will not always be the case for Atei. We have all fought to ensure that kids like him have every opportunity to craft the same memories, celebrations, and love stories as I did at a park growing up.
Last year I said that: “Too often, in these park-poor communities — which are rich in culture, rich in capital, in people power, in innovation, in so many ways — have been ignored and disinvested in for too long. “ I saw and continue to see the fight towards park equity and the passage of Prop 68 as steps towards justice. The type of justice that will ensure that one day Atei can get to a park following in those same footsteps.