Step into My World

Stories for Change of the Boys and Men of Color of California

Article by Mar Velez — Photography by Sydney Combs

Brian Melendez, 19, sleeps beside his best friend Arturo on the bus ride from Oakland to Sacramento. This was his first time attending a Sisters and Brothers at the Capital event.

Brian has only been in the United States for about four years, but he already knows when someone is underestimating his potential. “Yo senti que me trataban como niño,” he comments about him being treated like a kid at the age of thirteen when he was put in ESL classes in Texas where he first arrived. His mother didn’t want him to lose a year of school and so he was enrolled right away. Brian, although only thirteen, clearly had a different experience than an average coming of age teenager. He had moved his life entirely to a new place — partly for more economic stability, but mostly to be reunited with his mother. Brian is one of the youth that coming from all over California to advocate for themselves at the Sisters and Brothers at the Capitol week of advocacy in Sacramento. The week of advocacy is bringing together 250 young people from as south as City Heights in San Diego to as north as Del Norte County — the most northern California county that borders Oregon. They are coming together to push their legislators to support bills that will improve the life and health outcomes of boys and men or color, but that will have universal positive effects on all youth in the state. Issues like willful defiance and Health for All are at the top of the list for the California Alliance Boys and Men of Color, or the Alliance for short.

Brian got on the bus in the early morning from Oakland to participate in the week of advocacy because he believes in the power of the Alliance. It is fueled by organizations across the state working with young men in grass roots campaigns, counseling and job preparation. Brian is a part of the Latino Boys and Men Program of the Unity Council in Oakland. Brian knows when someone is undervaluing him, but he also knows when there’s good people in his life giving him an opportunity to demonstrate his talents. He participated in the National Council de la Raza convening in Los Angeles a few weeks ago and told an entire conference about his journey to the U.S. and why he is a part of the Latino Boys and Men Program. “I feel good,” he says. “They offered me help with my homework, gave me a mentor and also a job.” Brian is ineligible to work due to his undocumented status, but also because he does not qualify for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). According to the policy, DACA only applies to people born in 1981 or after, arrived to the U.S. before their 16th birthday, and came here before June of 2007. Brian misses the window of opportunity due to the last requirement — he came here in 2008.

Despite the unpropitious political battles, Brian enjoys simple but meaningful things due to his constantly shifting life progression. For example he enjoys the time that he has with his mother. As an only child, he knows it’s just him and her. He converses and jokes with his friends on the bus, joking about how he’s going to be featured in some big time publication thanks to this interview.

Also on the bus Malik. His calm and laid back demeanor is only the first layer you have to peel back in order to get the full effect of the Malik Magic. He has the initial subtle but strong presence, but once he gets to know you, Malik is fire. He has the swagger of a young superstar and the vision of a leader in his very own right. Malik is like fire. He can have a slow start — he was sleepy on the bus and I didn’t get to interview him until day two of the summit — but he when he has something on his mind he pops with passion and leadership. Malik cares about his community and he has the power of charisma to show for it.

Malik poses in front a mural at the Ryse Richmond, CA community center. (?)
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