Revitalizing Oakland Education for Students
“I wanted to help facilitate the healing in their lives. So my favorite part of this job? Listening to their stories and connecting with their hearts. I believe our people are resilient and they have amazing strengths and gifts.”Karina Gonzalez
Did you grow up in Oakland? If not, what brought you to Oakland?
I did not grow up in Oakland. I actually grew up in the southeast community of Los Angeles called South Gate. I made my way up to the Bay Area in the summer of 2004 to pursue my Masters in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Drama Therapy at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco, CA. I had been working in East Los Angeles, Lincoln Heights and Watts down in Los Angeles and I had every intention of returning “back to the community. However, in working throughout the Bay Area in Hayward and Oakland, I realized that “community” was everywhere and I decided to stay in the Bay Area to work with the community here. I felt very much at home in Seneca Families of Agencies because I witnessed the level of dedication and love that folks had for young people.
I work as a Clinical Intervention Specialist at two schools in East Oakland – Lazear Charter Academy and Ascend School. My role includes being a therapist for students K-12, consulting with teachers on ways to support our young students in the classroom through therapeutic interventions, offer support to the campus through restorative justice circles and helping facilitate other conversations within the classroom community to address issues such as grief/loss, strengthen relationships and transitions. In addition, I also meet with families to help them work through issues that surface within their families and connect them to resources. I feel very fortunate to have a position where I’m able to move about the community to connect individually with other folks doing this same work in our community as well as having the privilege of listening to stories from the community. It’s very humbling.
What are your favorite aspects of your job?
I love having the opportunity to connect with young people and their families. It’s very grounding and reminds me everyday why I went into this type of work. I wanted to help facilitate the healing in their lives. So my favorite part of this job? Listening to their stories and connecting with their hearts. I believe our people are resilient and they have amazing strengths and gifts. Sometimes, carving a little space for people to feel heard helps them reconnect with their strengths and gifts.
Share one or two highlights from your career, in which you believe you made an impact.
I think as a therapist on campus, I have been very fortunate to witness young people in action. I’ve helped facilitate conversations in group settings where young people have an opportunity to connect with each other and I also work with very amazing people in Seneca who whole-heartedly believe in this work as much as I do. I say this because this work cannot be done alone and if we shine is because we shine as a team. Last year, I, along with my esteemed colleague Ms. Tatiana Stewart (another clinician at the Lazear campus) were able to facilitate a conversation between young people in Middle School with their long term substitute teacher who replaced the revolving door of substitute teachers that were covering the class after the regular classroom teacher left mid-year. These conversations took place through Restorative Justice circles. We had the privilege of witnessing how that classroom was able to build a stronger connection with not only each other but their long term substitute teacher through those conversations. We also noticed how certain young people who had a challenging time staying present and focused, were able to shift to the point that they were able to express their appreciation toward the long term substitute teacher in front of peers.
What from your background do you believe led you to do what you do now?
I really believe that this work is my life mission. I used to work with young people in Los Angeles and many saw clinicians who did not reflect their cultural experiences. As much as I loved working with young people and facilitating talking circles, I knew that in order to go deeper with families, I needed to pursue my Masters in Counseling Psychology. I wanted to be a clinician who mirrored their cultural experiences. I grew up in a working class community and I was the first to pursue higher education.
When I told my mom that I was going to college in High School, she responded, “we can’t afford it” and I said, “Well… I’m going.” As I reflect on my life experiences, I think that voice surfaced from a place where I knew that I wanted to create changes and getting an education would be means to get me where I needed to go. As I started to get more involved in social services and social justice, I became more aware of the disparity in resources and opportunities. My family did not have the option to pursue counseling services – we just functioned best we could. A lot of the families in Oakland are doing the same, trying to get by best they can to provide for their families. In their faces, I see my family reflected. For me, this work is about being able to help hold space for our families and young people to reflect on ways to create movement in their lives.
What is your best advice to young people?
Tap into your intuition and listen to the whispers around you. Those whispers may be your ancestors trying to provide some guidance or your gut trying to steer you on the right path.
What motivates you?
Healing for the seventh generation. As a “mixed blood person” from indigenous roots, I believe that we do this work in order to heal the generations before us who did not have the opportunity to heal and heal future generations. I am motivated by the future and creating a better place for that seventh generation one generation at a time.
What do you like to do in your free time?
It’s cliché but I do love spending time with my family and reconnecting with myself whether it’s through writing, singing or experimenting with a new recipe.
What do you love most about Oakland?
I love the people and the rich cultural diversity that exists within Oakland. To me, Oakland has a lot of heart and in the face of gentrification, our people here continue to move forward. I think working at a charter school that has been kept open by families has proven to me once again, the power of heart and commitment. At Lazear Charter Academy, the families were the ones who kept this school alive. If we have a wonderful place to work in, it is because of all those families who stood up and fought for the school to remain here in this community.
If you were to reimagine public education in Oakland, what would that vision look like?
I want a public education to have the opportunities for young people to feel inspired and dream big. I often hear from students that “school is boring” and I wonder if there were more resources and opportunities, would we be able to offer them an experience within public education for them to learn through experiential ways. Let’s give them a space where they can access not only excellent academic classes but access art, music, nature and theatre. I would also would like to see restorative justice circles at every school because it focuses on community building and having a place for young people to feel heard and connect with their teachers on a deeper level.
60 Seconds with Karina Gonzalez