Equity on the Road brought together the Central Valley community to hear their feedback

April 30, 2024 /

Last year The Center at Sierra Health Foundation and the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund went to the capital to ask for concrete policy changes that uplift vulnerable communities that have been historically marginalized. This year, those organizations traveled along California to hear important feedback on issues still impacting their communities. Their first stop was Bakersfield on their Equity on the Road tour.

Bakersfield was the biggest scheduled event in April. It included Kings County, Tulare County, and Kern County. The afternoon started with a hot meal and a blessing from the local tribe. Although it didn’t end with a lot of questions and feedback, many participants left with resources regarding Medi-Cal enrollment, Narcan or Naloxone awareness, and ways to report environmental problems.

It’s important that the Central Valley is a part of the climate and environmental policies. This region supplies over 25% of the nation’s food according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). On a large scale, the valley struggles to keep up with water usage and a changing climate which triggers wildfires. On a smaller scale, many homes are being charged high prices for air conditioning during triple-digit heat.

During the event, organizers discussed topics ranging from the policy platform San Joaquin Valley Health Fund IHHEEL to local programs that empower residents to report environmental issues like leaky oil wells. The IHHEEL program encapsulates Immigration, Health, Housing, Education, Environmental Justice, Land Use, and Planning. Another major point made by a panelist was to hold California accountable for its promise to make over thirty percent of land protected by 2023.

Ashley De La Rosa, Policy Director with the Dolores Huerta Foundation (DHF), was a panelist who spoke and introduced a community leader who spoke. Between remarks, De La Rosa challenged each person in the audience to help register at least three people to vote this election season. Later in the event, Fernando Aguilar accompanied her.

Aguilar, who is a student at Arvin High School, shared with the audience their experience joining the DHF youth program.

“When I joined I started learning new things such as the land we occupy which is by the Yokuts people, and the drastic differences between our school compared to the other schools within the Kern High School District,” Aguilar continued.

“Some schools had better graduation rates and lower suspension rates than Arvin High and other schools,” stated Aguilar.

Aguilar is a current senior in high school and is disappointed they will miss out on attending Arvin’s new BC campus. Due to Arvin’s 23-mile distance from the original Bakersfield College campus, it can be a relief for families with students to know a local option is now available.

Chris Cruz-Boone, the Bakersfield City School District President, spoke at the event and mentioned several victories for the Valley including the new Bakersfield City campus in Arvin.

Another panelist highlighted the fact that your zip code directly impacts your life expectancy. Those interested in monitoring how polluted the area around their home is can use this tool named CalEnviroScreen 4.0 found on the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment website.

Yuriria Lopez, a Bakersfield resident spoke about being an essential worker as a farm worker but not being treated as essential.

To understand the impact the event had on the attendance Kern Sol interviewed members of DHF  and Líderes Campesinas del Kern Norte.

Francisco Aguilar is Fernando Aguilar’s older brother, and DHF youth member. He stated that he was proud to see his younger sibling speak up about issues that affect them.

“Seeing someone from Arvin represent us, and the audience felt proud seeing a young person speaking up,” added Aguilar.

Members of the farm working community were represented by the Líderes Campesinas. Leaders from the female group attended the event to advocate for more medical services, help with rising childcare costs, and overall equity and equality during political discussions.

Yesenia Acosta, an organizer for Líderes Campesinas, stated how important inclusion is when it comes to equity.

“We want equity for everybody, that’s what’s important. Not everyone has the same needs as others, but we want equality regardless,” said Acosta.

Veronica Garcia, another member, stated, “We want medical services, a clean climate, better education & everything else our children may need.”

A farm worker and mother who didn’t want to be identified commented that she worries for the youth who grow up in low-income situations. She wanted authorities to know that there needs to be more school interventions when bullying occurs.

For more information on the work Equity on the Road is doing visit shfcenter.org.

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