Christina “Krea” Gomez
Co-founder of Sister Warriors; Alum of Young Women’s Freedom Center
“How can we get young folks the things they need without them ending up in the system?”
Leading Edge Vision:
Krea’s vision is to replace punitive and dehumanizing systems with a comprehensive new architecture that provides young people with the support and resources they need to address their trauma, and to heal and thrive.
What is your vision for your community? For California?
I envision a world where youth and family safety and wellness are synonymous with each other, and all community stakeholders and government entities prioritize this as a goal for their engagement.
A comprehensive approach to safety and wellness requires us to see youth as part of a larger unit and ecosystem that must be supported in tandem. This approach requires improved collaboration between schools, community programs and system stakeholders, making them all more effective. By challenging our current models of prevention and intervention to be more inclusive of true transformative justice, we can both address the need for more robust community violence interventions and improve how youth succeed.
Finally, prevention and intervention would happen before a young person is arrested. Those who are most engaged in community violence would receive extensive training and access to resources that would afford them the opportunity to address their trauma, reinvent their reputations and do good for their community by serving as mentors. They would be making a liveable wage, preventing them from having to return to the underground street economy. That will interrupt community violence and increase public safety.
Can you share a story, either personal or from a directly impacted person, that exemplifies the problem you are trying to solve?
At Young Women’s Freedom Center, I worked with directly impacted girls and gender-non-confirming people who were part of the juvenile justice system, and conducted research with them to find out what their experience has been like since their detention or incarceration. A couple of things stood out: every girl who came through the center was housing insecure, and a significant number of them were in another system, such as child welfare, foster care, or had parents in the adult system. The research brought to light that these systems don’t talk.
I also worked with directly impacted people to close down juvenile hall in San Francisco. It became clear that in order to get “support,” you have to end up in these systems, but in order to get out of these systems, you have to have a good quality of life. The question became, how can we get young folks the things they need without them ending up in the system?
There is urgency for a model that emphasizes the wellbeing of a young person and their family. At the core of this model is increasing the access points to support and introducing them before a young person or their family enters the system.
What progress have you seen thus far in your work and what remains to be done?
San Francisco has a significant amount of resources being saved by the closing of San Francisco’s Juvenile Justice Center. More than 300 youth-serving community based organizations and multiple workgroups are tasked with improving how probation engages youth and their families. The city has one of the most progressive Board of Supervisors it has had in the last 20 years. It also has a large enough number of advocates and stakeholders with the political and community will to commit to drastic and innovative changes to improve how we serve youth, their families, and formerly incarcerated and detained individuals. San Francisco is the perfect ecosystem to pilot this reimagining of community intervention and collaboration and build a vision of true system transformation across the justice system, child welfare, schools, mental health and the adult system.
One example is the idea of a wellbeing advocate. A wellbeing advocate would support young people and meet their needs, whether it is negotiating with the probation department on behalf of the young person or getting them shoes so they can go to school. If we just listen and advocate on behalf of young people and their families, we can get them what they need to thrive.
The folks who are supporting young people and their families should in turn be supported and respected as professionals. If the state, city or county is funding a community violence interventionist, then they should also give them life insurance, for example, because they are putting their lives on the line. They are the true first responders and heroes. They deserve to be paid well, have proper training on the job and protections for themselves and their families, so they don’t need to worry about their safety and focus on being effective in the field.
What barriers have you faced, or continue to face, in achieving your vision of change?
Lack of communication and coordination between systems that should be working together to be the most effective they can be. These systems refuse to acknowledge how harmful they are. Their denial creates barriers that would otherwise allow us to have honest conversations that improve how we collaborate.
How will the Leading Edge Fund fellowship help?
I will have the time and resources to have these conversations with the community, with young folks, and with those they consider mentors to see how we can better support them. The fellowship will provide me with the resources to survey youth and community interventionists to see what quality of life looks like for them, and what they, and their families need to be safe. Additionally, I’ll have access to systems to see how they overlap, and be able to find out how I can support them in improving their coordination and communications.
Who needs to hear your story and what is your call to action for them?
Anyone who loves and cares about young people, and has the power to fund this work. Philanthropy funds in silos. The requirements they ask of organizations that are doing the work create obstacles. When importance is put on reporting and how you spent your money, that’s what will drive the work. The emphasis should be on what you can do to support your community. To be transformative is to let go of those requirements and limitations of what’s possible.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
True public safety isn’t absent from conflict or crime. It’s the presence of a community committed to taking care of every community member. It will take us all to create the community we deserve.