"The Legacy Youth Project Transformed Napa for Nearly a Decade" by Karla Gomez-Pelayo & Yolanda Ayala
For nearly a decade, each Legacy Youth Project (LYP) class session began and ended with the Mayan philosophy-inspired "In Lak 'Ech" poem by Chicano playwright Luis Valdez.
Tú eres mi otro yo. You are my other me.
Si te hago daño a ti. If I do harm to you.
Me hago daño a mi mismo. I do harm to myself.
Si te amo y respet. If I love and respect you.
Me amo y respeto yo. I love and respect myself."
Throughout our eight-year partnership with Napa Valley Unified School District (NVUSD), LYP cultivated humanizing opportunities for 5-12th grade students to lead, rejoice, and thrive. Students have shared:
"Legacy opened my eyes to seeing myself in other people."
"It's important to know that Legacy will not only help you with your education, but it will also help you have a better mindset."
"My ability to think and comprehend in such deep levels come from my experiences in Legacy, especially my love for education.”
The success of LYP was a testament to our commitment to helping NVUSD envision and implement a solution for systemic inequity in 2012. The program was offered through a school-day class at multiple sites, including Vintage High, Redwood Middle, Silverado Middle, Harvest Middle, and Napa Valley Language Academy. All of our students – whether they were Latinx, Black, Indigenous, European, or mixed-race – thrived in this academic setting, some for the first time. Students increased their academic performance, developed their social and emotional well-being, reconnected with their cultural identity, and developed into dynamic leaders. From 2012-2020, LYP maintained a 100% high school graduation rate and inspired a “college-going” culture for a demographic of students who would otherwise not attend. One student attested, "Before Legacy, I never had college in my mind, now I’m in college. I’m trying to do something with my life, make my mom happy and help her out." LYP was nearing implementation of a pathway fromNVUSD to Napa Valley College.
Our home-grown Ethnic Studies and social justice leadership program inspired more than 600+ students to heal and transform. Through rigorous teaching, we fostered a sense of belonging. One student shared, "When I walk into Legacy, I feel my spirit lift and fill with happiness. It's like I walked into my home. Legacy is a home away from home. It’s helped me heal by giving me the space to express my feelings." Our classroom became a sanctuary where students felt seen, heard, and loved. Centered within a decolonial framework, Ethnic Studies allowed students to see their humanity and others. One student explained, "I have become a confident, strong, and hopeful person because not only are all the coaches [teachers] so helpful and inspiring, but the things we are taught have made me understand who I am." This speaks to the curriculum implemented in our classroom.
Our success garnered local and national accolades. LYP received the "Innovation Program of the Year" by the Napa County Office of Education. Our students received both NEWS (Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse Services) and "If Given a Chance" awards. For his LYP work, our Co-Founder and Director, Carlos Hagedorn, was named "Male Role Model of the Year" from NEWS and received the "Lifetime Achievement Award'' from the Napa County Hispanic Network. Three doctoral dissertations and local reports by the Napa County Gang and Youth Violence Commission (now, Youth Opportunities Commission) and the Napa County Grand Jury have all studied LYP. The internationally acclaimed documentary by First Partner of California Jennifer Siebel Newsom, "The Mask You Live In," features LYP as a solution to engage Latino boys. LYP's impact transcended program participants.
Despite our successes, the Superintendent and School Board dismantled LYP in June 2020. A student shared, "Without LYP, I’ll fail." While another exclaimed, "The only reason I go to school is for LYP!" Unfortunately, NVUSD's decision is pushing LYP participants back into the margins during unprecedented times. This situation was preventable with effective communication, commitment to equity, and continued collaboration from NVUSD. If the energy, resources, and public funds that NVUSD exhausted to dismantle LYP had been poured into implementing our solution-based plan for the 2020-2021 school year, we’d be meeting a grave need right now.
LYP provided an equitable solution, born right here from our soil, that effectively met the holistic needs of students and families for nearly a decade. Our guiding principle of "In Lak' Ech" allowed students to empathize with each other and build coalitions across differences. As an elder shared, "The people most affected by injustice must be part of the solution, they know best what they need." We, as community members, knew how to do this and co-created LYP, which transformed us all. Napa's Ethnic Studies is the Legacy Youth Project.
Karla E. Gomez-Pelayo
Link to letter published on the Napa Valley Register, here.