My name is Jose Martinez, a student at Natomas High School in Sacramento. I am a member of the local Brown Issues Sacramento Chapter. This organization gave me an outlet to channel my frustrations about the inequities facing my community. Brown Issues gave me a platform where I am able to shine. Starting at Natomas High School my freshman year, I was a bit of a shy individual. I did not have many friends, but quickly joined Brown Issues and met individuals who always encouraged me to attend their meetings and events.
During the first meeting, the topic of police brutality was being discussed in the wake of the killing of a young African-American individual during the Fall of 2015. To think of it, not much has changed since then. This got me hooked; I was never generally interested in school because the topics taught are not relatable to me and my community. My mentor, Juan Verdin, a Sacramento State University Student, and the advisor, Ms. Rios, a Spanish instructor, made me and the other students feel comfortable and provided a safe environment where we were able to speak freely and express our emotions. They made us feel like we were all part of the same family.
Shortly after joining Brown Issues, one of our first tasks was to showcase a traditional Mexican altar at the annual Panteon de Sacramento Dia de los Muertos event. Our school honored our past ancestors and friends at the event, but at this event one thing really stood out to me. At the event they had a big inflatable soda can. When I say big, I mean BIG! This can is two stories tall, and one would think the event would be sponsored by a soda company, however, the can is actually used to advocate for awareness of sugary drinks and their correlation to type 2 diabetes, especially in Black and Brown communities. This can has been dubbed “Canzilla” by the community.
Canzilla had a certain gravitational pull with me. I didn’t know it yet, but I would soon be fully emerged as an advocate for the campaign. I remember asking the adult caretakers of Canzilla at the event, which were also Brown Issues members, how I could help with Canzilla. My first task was to learn and get “Laced-Up” with the facts about minorities and type 2 diabetes. I was astonished by the statistic that 1 out of 2 Latinos are at risk of type 2 diabetes. To me this is a big deal as the youngest person in my family and recently becoming an uncle. I fear for the health of those around me, especially since most of us know of at least one person with type 2 diabetes. Once becoming aware of the dangers and statistics, my next task was to engage people in the conversation about type 2 diabetes. At first, the simple task of approaching people was terrifying; however, being knowledgeable about the subject made it a lot easier. Soon I felt like a pro, coming up with lines, “Excuse me, I see that you are interested in our Canzilla display, would you care to obtain more information about type 2 diabetes?”
It’s been almost a year since I first started working with Canzilla, but every chance I get to interact with people about Canzilla, I take it. For me, it is important to do this type of advocacy in order to help our community, especially since health is one of the last things we think about, when it comes to advocating for justice. What really makes me proud of helping our communities is when community members tell us personal stories about close family or friends they have that are living with diabetes and how grateful they are that we are educating our people.
Most notably, I was a approached by a young lady at the Carnaval event in the Mission District of San Francisco. She started telling me about how her mother was living with diabetes. Seeing her mother, a once strong woman who had taken her of her, now vulnerable and suffering from diabetes took a toll on her. She worried about her mom due to the fact that she was undocumented and had limited resources to pay for a doctor. The young girl explained how she was unable to constantly be at home with her mother and how she feared her mother might take a turn for the worse. She was grateful for us being in her neighborhood educating the community, helping prevent future cases of type 2 diabetes, but she also expressed that for some people, it was too late. I guess talking about this made her feel emotional and she did not feel comfortable crying in public so she left. I never got her name, but stories such as this bring tears to my eyes. They are also my motivation to continue raising awareness in my community.