Dear Future Greenlining Fellows,
My name is Denzel Tongue and I am Greenlining’s current Health Equity Fellow. I am sure your life is probably pretty hectic right now. You may be finishing up finals, applying to jobs, or just trying to figure out what the hell are you going to do next year. I was in your shoes not too long ago, and I know that this time period is not easy. However, I’ve seen the light at the end of the tunnel, and some of that light comes from the Greenlining Leadership Academy! A policy fellowship like the one I’m in the middle of represents an amazing opportunity to gain a year of experience advocating for people of color and other marginalized communities.
Fellows are given training on how to develop and advocate for equitable policies that support California’s most marginalized communities. Many former Fellows go on to take major leadership roles; for example, directing diversity and inclusion efforts at Lyft, or fighting for marginalized communities through public office. The academy’s massive investment in future racial equity advocates represents a unique opportunity for future leaders.
Throughout college I wondered how would I best support communities who historically have not had a seat at the table. As a working-class person of color from Oakland, I’ve seen how racist policies of the past contributed to the social and economic issues of the present. Consider, for example, the Federal Housing Administration’s decades-old practice of redlining, the explicit practice of refusing home loans to Black people or those wanted to live near them. Redlining led to economic divestment from communities of color, which still shapes communities to this day.
The lingering effects of redlining continue to damage my hometown of Oakland. In fact, my personal experiences with violence and family health inextricably link with the legacy of redlining. The loss of family members to both preventable illnesses and violence—two factors seen disproportionately in communities of color—made me resolve to improve health outcomes for marginalized communities like my own. Knowing the historical impact of redlining drives me to become a champion for people of color and other marginalized groups to ensure that future generations do not have to endure the same losses that I faced. Once I found out about Greenlining’s one-year policy fellowship, I knew that it would be a solid next step towards pursuing my goal of developing racial, economic, and health equity in the United States. As a health policy Fellow, I have had a whole new world of experiences.
I must note that working as a policy Fellow is not easy, but it is highly rewarding. As the Health Equity Fellow, I am privileged to operate in a variety of spaces that allow me to advocate for underrepresented groups. For example, I recently traveled to Sacramento to strategize with a legislative staffer about the implementation of AB 1344 — a state law that Greenlining sponsored, my predecessor testified for, and Gov. Brown signed in October — which mandates that formerly incarcerated individuals and people on probation be informed of their voting rights by county probation departments and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
That same day, I attended a meeting with staff from Covered California— the state’s health insurance marketplace—to speak about improving their internal diversity and outreach to communities of color. (Oh, by the way, if you have not already, please #GetCovered.) Overall, my trip to Sacramento represents the culmination of years of hard work and preparation. As a Fellow, I have the platform and tools to advocate for the communities that need the most support. Moving forward, I will lead Greenlining’s efforts to track the implementation of AB 1344 and ensure that the reentry population is more enfranchised. Much as I cherish this aspect of the fellowship, it doesn’t represent the full picture.
In addition to working on policy, I also receive an array of support services from the Leadership Academy and other Greenlining staff. For example, I recently attended a workshop on analysis of power and how to create coalitions to tackle powerful opposition groups. I have also had workshops on racial equity, policy writing, and corporate mergers, just to name a few. Greenlining’s Leadership Academy truly distinguishes its program from other fellowships I applied to with its remarkable amount of investment in both my personal and professional growth, and I am grateful to be able to take advantage of this opportunity.
I’ll stop gloating about Greenlining for now, but I also want to encourage you to apply! If you have already started the application I wish you the best of luck. For those of you who haven’t, the application deadline is January 28th, 2018. Good luck, and hope to hear from you soon.