Cal Social Justice Intern Learns and Leads

For the last few years BOSS has partnered with the UC Berkeley Public Service Center — a Student initiated service learning organization within Cal’s curriculum to place UC Berkeley students in internships at local organizations who are trying to better the community. Interns work within the BOSS Social Justice Institute and attend city and county town hall meetings as well as go to Sacramento to lobby on behalf of things important to our community such as better schools, affordable housing, and living-wage jobs. Our intern this past school year has been Calixtho. Here is his reflection on his time here at BOSS, the work we do, the political process, and poverty and homelessness in our community.

My name is Calixtho Lopes, and I am a third year transfer student from Los Angeles studying Political Science at UC Berkeley. My first year at Cal has been amazing and much of it has to do with having been given the opportunity to be BOSS’s Social Justice Intern. Coming into Cal, there were many uncertainties, ranging from the academics I was about to be subjected to, to whether or not I would be able to be away from my family for months at a time. With the many things I had going on with my transition to Berkeley, the only thing I was sure about was my desire to continue engaging in public service and continue the work necessary to help address social injustices. 

What struck me the most once I relocated to Berkeley, was the presence and visibility of Alameda County’s homeless population. Coming from Los Angeles, homelessness was ever present in my community and too many times I have experienced it myself. However, it had never been this visible. Knowing the prestige that comes with UC Berkeley’s name, the fact that they own the entire 94720 zip code, and still having so many individuals begging for something to eat, and making our concrete side walks their bed, had me in disbelief. How can anyone be okay with this? Why is this not being addressed? What can I do to help change this? Are the questions I always ask myself. 

Fortunately, my first semester at Cal, as I sought to get involved, I stumbled upon UC Berkeley’s Public Service Center (PSC). After speaking to Fela (PSC’s Student Leadership Programs Manager) about wanting to get involved with any kind of work revolving around homeless and formerly incarcerated folks, I was introduced to the work BOSS does. Immediately, I knew this was an organization I wanted to work at. Soon after I met with Gwen Austin (BOSS’s Development Associate and Community Builder-Organizer), and told her all about my passion for helping those most in need, I received an offer to be their Social Justice Intern. That is where many things began to change for me. 

I reviewed and evaluated policies introduced at the local and state level pertaining to affordable housing, social justice, transportation, and public health. I attended various community events that engaged and exposed many stakeholder and community members to the structural factors that allow for social injustices to persist; I was able to witness and experience first hand, the work that goes into pressuring our elected officials to pass bills that allocate sufficient funds to expand social services, and help confront conditions like the housing crisis our state is currently undergoing; I was able to contribute to East Bay’s Project Homeless Connect by helping individuals access necessary resources; I helped co-facilitate social justice classes with the goal to educate some of BOSS’s program participants about their rights and encourage dialogue around the interconnectedness of race and poverty. Most importantly, BOSS helped broaden my understanding of the multiple systems of oppression and the amount of organizing and advocacy necessary to begin to address social inequities.

Next Steps.  Next year, Calixtho will be a senior at UC Berkeley and will be moving into a new role within the Public Service Center. He will be the incoming Student Director for the Public Service Center’s East Bay Community Builders Program, and a Cal-in-Sacramento Fellow, interning at the State Capitol this summer. In Calixtho’s own words, “I can honestly say that BOSS has provided me with a strong foundation to help guide me through my journey to relentless advocate for those who are socially and economically disadvantage.” Calixtho will be interning for Senator Tony Mendoza (Dem-District 32). Coming into Cal-in-Sacramento, as a Latino person of color, Calixtho was seeking to intern for a latino/a Senator or Assemblymember working to address the issues that he grew up seeing in his community. He landed in Senator Mendoza’s office in his second round of interviews, after not being able to secure an internship with the Senate Pro Tem Kevin De Leon (who was looking for someone to be in his press communications team) and Jimmy Gomez a Representative of the area he frequented a lot as a child and attended high school in. Senator Mendoza was his top pick from Sen. Ben Allen, and Assemblymember Nora Campos, because of his history; a history, Calixtho says he is able to relate to. Senator Mendoza is the first one of nine siblings to go to college, and also grew up in south central Los Angeles, an area with many of the social ills Calixtho experienced growing up. He comes from immigrant parents like him and is very much invested in empowering our community. He became involved with local government as young as 25 by becoming a member of Artesia’s City Council, later on becoming it Mayor. One thing Calixtho says he is most excited about is that he runs the Young Senators Leadership Program, which exposes incoming seniors from his district to California Politics and the beauty of engaging in public service. Getting the youth involved early on is extremely important and effective in creating agents of change that have the interests of their communities at heart. Also, because his office is not that big, Calixtho says he will be able to engage in more policy work, tracking and summarizing bills, interacting with constituents and their concerns, and I have a feeling I will be able to get to work with the member himself. For all these reasons, and some that he has have failed to mention for time’s sake, Calixtho is delighted to have been chosen to work for him.

As his supervisor, it has been a pleasure and a wonderful opportunity to have an intern with a shiny, almost blinding, future ahead of him. He soaked up and tried to learn as much as he could possibly learn about homelessness, poverty, structural and historical inhibitors and ways and means of which BOSS aligns itself with partners throughout Alameda County and the State of California in order to be part of changing how policy often adversely affects poor people, more specifically, people of color. I would definitely say Calixtho is a true social change agent and am so glad he did his internship with BOSS, sharing and giving of himself while learning and educating himself with all those he came in contact with. Thank you so much Calixtho. Much respect as you continue your political and advocacy journey — Gwen Austin.