Audio Stories – Youth Engaging in Anti-Racism

Audio Stories – Youth Taking Action Podcast – has launched a new episode of season two!

Audio Stories – Youth Taking Action – is a miniseries sponsored by the National Training and Technical Assistance Center and Youth MOVE National. Audio Stories is a project created to look at the important work that youth and young adults across the nation are doing in areas of mental health and other youth-serving systems to highlight the achievements surrounding topics that advocate for change in the nation!

In this episode, we talk to Chapi Alfaro, who works at the SPARK Peer Learning Center to empower youth and families in the state of Washington. She has been with the organization for just about 3 years. Her role at SPARK is to certify peer counselors in the state and educate those about BIPOC communities and how to work with peers whilst checking their biases. She is excited to be able to work alongside youth making changes in this country in the mental health field. Today, we will be talking to Chapi about Youth Engaging in Anti-Racism.

Check Out the Podcast Here >> or listen below

Hello, my name is Chapi Alfaro, I work alongside SPARK Peer Learning Center to empower youth and families in the state of Washington. I’ve been with SPARK for over 2 years now, almost 3. I work to certify peer counselors in the state and educate those about BIPOC communities and how to work with peers whilst checking the biases we have learned throughout the years at the door. I am very excited to be working alongside youth making changes in this country in the mental health field.

  • Share a quick intro into the advocacy work you do. (Share a little bit about SPARK, your role, and some examples of what you do!)
    • Hello, how are y’all? My name is Sharon Alfaro, but I much prefer to go by my nickname Chapi. It stems from the Spanish word chaparra, or shorty in English. Pretty evident why that’s my nickname. So I am here to speak about SPARK (students providing and receiving knowledge) Peer Learning Center. What we are, is a youth-led organization that works to strengthen and build the workforce development of peer counselors not only in the state but throughout the country with the partnerships we seek. We have different focuses, but really specialize in educating and certifying peers in WISe (warparound with intensive services). This program came out of a lawsuit from the people of Washington versus the state due to the fact that the state was severely failing youth and families with intense needs. There were not enough readily available programs that really took to working with families with these needs, so the program was made accessible through state insurance so it’s free.
    • I am proud to say that I am the board co-president for SPARK, and honestly a lot of what I do is just follow our team. They are splendid, they know what to do and how to their job, so really I am here as pure support.
    • I have been involved in February 2020, right before the pandemic hit, as a student through their peer classes and then their CPC classes. I really admired the work that was being done that I stayed in contact ever since. I think this line of work is so inspiring. A lot of us in thie field, if not the vast majority, have some agonizing lived experience, and the fact that we are able to not only do something about, but be there for others through it and guide them out of those dark parts of life is very empowering.
  • How have your personal experiences shaped your pathway to this work?
    • For me, my lived experience has shaped my work through the passion I feel. It’s so easy to have compassion and empathy when you yourself realize that everyone’s got the possibility of going through something that we know nothing about. Once we hear about the injustices these youth and families go through, it’s also very easy to become passionate in their journey and advocacy. It’s so fascinating how relatable you can be with those peers you work with, so you can easily share that knowledge you hold as well.
  • In what ways do you see racism appear in the mental/behavioral health?
    • Wow. this is a heartbreaking question, because it is so evident. I myself have faced a lot of bias while working in this field. It’s sad to say that it’s mostly the agencies that we work with. I began working with an agency very well-known in my area in July 2020 and one of the first things I walked into was into racism against the clients. At the time there were these resources to make sure families could attend meetings through telecare and there was the attempt to increase those
      resources due to the pandemic. I was still very new when one of the staff had gone off and was wondering why these resources were available to white youth and families, but when Latinx clients requested them, they were denied because, “there were not enough.” When a supervisor had mentioned he was mad because the agency has been doing better regarding racism, someone suggested to just lie and say that due to language barriers, no one had requested them or didn’t know how to use said resources. I had to interrupt and clarify at the time how that was not okay and in fact racist. Throughout my time there, staff would attempt to find trainings to be as racially/culturally sensitive as possible, but management would say yes, and not actually do anything about it. Or if it was, it was guided by white, cishet individuals. There are many other examples, but I think this clarifies enough how much more work agencies have to put in.
  • How do you use your role at SPARK to create anti-racist spaces?
    • That is so interesting, because I have never thought of that. I think my role as a human being, as latina, as queer, as a woman and as someone with lived experience always comes into play in my everyday life. As a SPARK member, I hold all of the students that I come in contact with high standards. My belief is that there are no excuses to not allow others to educate you where you lack. It’s a sign of growth and maturity that I hold dear to me.
  • How has your community outreach work promoted positive space for BIPOC youth?
    • I love education, I think it’s easy to judge each other without putting ourselves in each other’s shoes, but I think the best perspective, is to realize that not everyone has had the opportunity to learn to love their neighbors and with the right attitude, anything is possible. This is were having dialogue really helps. As an agency, I think SPARK has really opened some dialogues, people are talking and making realizations of how it is to treat others with respect and dignity regardless of how different they are.
  • What are some things that organizations can do to promote anti-racism within their staff?
    • Education and accountability. I have seen staff request trainings to be better prepared, but they never get it and so they are kind of set for failure and burnout. I have also seen staff do some horrid stuff in the name of bias and not gotten anything but a slap on the wrist. These consequences in exchange can be merited through prior guidelines, but, any agencies are scared of the work that entails. It is a lot of work, but at the end of the day, they can’t afford not to put the energy in.
  • What are some things youth need to feel as if systems are working in anti-racist ways for them?
    • Youth need to feel supported and the only way you get that is through listening. Not only hearing, but truly listening. Take down notes, compare, find solutions, problem solve. It’s easy to say you want change, but the only way these new generations are going to feel as if systems are working in anti-racist ways for them is to welcome critique and most importantly, encourage it.
  • What self-care tips do you have for BIPOC professionals working in mental health?
    • Self-care is so specific per the individual, I can’t tell anyone how their self-care needs to look like. I can share things that work for me for sure. These are taking deep breaths, stretches in the middle of my work and a lot of genuine kindness to myself. In this society where tedious hard work is praised, it can be easy to be very judgmental and mean to ourselves. I believe the phrase we are our worst critics can be so true at times, we forget to be gentle. This is specially true for BIPOC individuals who know they are expected to work so many times more than their white, cishet counterparts, for less homage or even pay.
  • What is your hope for the future for youth?
    • Every time I think about this new generation, I fill with so much hope. Millennials walked, so Gen Z could run and they ran. They are taking this world by storm, changing what they can’t accept and making the necessary spaces for those without a voice. My hope for the future is that our youth continue to slay whatever path they set themselves to.

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