It Takes A Barrio

Dr. César Cruz, Co-Founder of Homies Empowerment in front of the Free(dom) Store storefront on MacArthur Blvd. in East Oakland. [Photo by Martin do Nascimento]

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Dear Friends and Family,

Almost one year ago, when we started volunteering every Tuesday morning at the Homies Empowerment FREEdom Store. We thought we were going to help out our neighbors in a time of crisis, but we never expected to fall in love with and become a part of a community we had never known. 

We’ve seen this community treat people with dignity and respect—from the twelve-year-old girl who sold zucchini bread to raise money to the basketball star, Steph Curry, who donated a refrigerated food truck, from the white volunteers who are new to the community to the BIPOC volunteers who live in the community, and most importantly, from the abuelas, grandpas, aunties and tios, to the mamas and babies standing in line for groceries and diapers. 

All my life I’ve longed for a community that is non-hierarchical and non-patriarchal—something far different from how I was raised in Alabama—and I had given up trying to find such a community. There are a lot of organizations that preach community and solidarity, but very few that actually practice it. Homies Empowerment says it, does it, and lives it. 

There is so much more I’d love to share about Homies:

  • how they teamed up with the Native American Health Center to offer free COVID testing and masks on Tuesdays, 

  • how they set up a vaccination registration table to offer support getting online and signing up for a vaccine appointment,

  • how they set up a COVID Relief Fund to help community members pay their rent and keep their lights on,

  • how they collected over 2500 high quality toys to give out at Christmas,

  • how they started as an after-school program with weekly unity dinners

  • how they are creating a school called HECHOS, Homies Empowerment Community High School for Oakland's Success, with a mission to welcome home resilient youth impacted by systemic oppression, with revolutionary love, wraparound holistic resources, and academic support as the youth further develop the scholar, warrior, healer and hustler within, while moving towards individual and community emancipation and self-determination.

But, Homies is so much bigger than anything I could write, so instead, I encourage you to click on the links in this letter, sign up for their newsletter, subscribe to their YouTube page and follow them on Twitter.

And one more thing. I ask you to consider making a monthly recurring, tax-deductible donation to Homies. Set it up as an automatic payment of any amount you can afford and forget about it until next year’s tax season. Whether it is $5, $50 or $500 knowing they can count on that amount each month makes it possible for Homies to do what they do best.

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Until next time, stay healthy, safe, and love, most important, loved.

Love, Leslie