Uriel Hernandez always felt a bit cynical about influencing local government in his hometown of East Palo Alto. As he explained it, “The political and development processes always seemed so murky to me. Then I found the Community Advocates Leadership Academy in 2016.”
Growing up, Uriel noticed how different the cities surrounding East Palo Alto were. “In Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton, it felt like you were in a magical forest when compared to East Palo Alto. The lack of tree cover was creating a disconnect between people and nature.”
When Uriel returned from college he started volunteering for Canopy, a local nonprofit, and its “Branching Out” program. The program’s goal is to plant 500 trees by 2020 in the neighborhood where he grew up. In 2015, after volunteering for a year, he was offered a full-time job to manage the program. He said it was his “opportunity to bring nature back to East Palo Alto.”
When Uriel was asked to apply to the Community Advocates Leadership Academy in 2016, he jumped at the opportunity. It was his chance to learn more about how “to unite and mobilize people to create larger actions.”
During the 10-month program from September 2016 through June 2017, Uriel discovered how to work with city councilmembers and how to better engage the community. He found the lessons directly impacted his work with the City of East Palo Alto planting trees.
Beyond his day job with Canopy, “the program opened my eyes to being a community advocate. My view of citizen engagement changed. I wish I had learned about the development process sooner. Perhaps there was something I could have done to influence the developments going up in my city.”
Thanks to the Leadership Academy, Uriel is more committed than ever to staying engaged and speaking up for the changes he wants to see. He says he knows, “that now it’s up to me as a community member to show up and keep the pressure on government so they know people care.”
Uriel is already starting to be recognized for his leadership on environmental issues. In March 2017 he received Bay Nature’s Local Hero award for Youth Engagement. He is one of the 100+ community leaders who have graduated from the Community Advocates Leadership Academy and is working to make San Mateo and Santa Clara counties better for all of us who live and work here.
Thank you Uriel!
This post was written by Morgan Aitken-Young, Community Advocates Leadership Academy Class of 2016. Morgan recently sat down with graduates of the program to capture how it has impacted their advocacy.