FELLOW OF THE WEEK: ERNESTO VILLASENOR

unnamedErnesto is a First Year Fellow serving at MassCOSH as the Teens Lead @ Work Fellow!

1. What inspired you to do a year of service?

Before I answer this question, I’d like to introduce myself: my name is Ernesto and I’m Straight Outta Compton! The reason why I say and introduce myself as such is as a way of destroying the stigma associated with the community that has made me who I am, as creating awareness that Greatness Comes From Compton. Before coming to Dorchester to work at MassCOSH (Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health) as an AmeriCorps Massachusetts Promise Fellow (I drove from Compton all the way to Boston), I would have to admit that I was getting out of touch with the work that had inspired me to do what I have been doing throughout my lifetime: serving as a vessel for positive change in the communities I call home. This year of service is more than just getting in touch with that which has served as a catalyst for change in my own life: it is also to serve as a catalyst for youth who will be serving as vessels in their community to sustain the change they wish to see in the world. Committing to a year of service as an AmeriCorps Massachusetts Promise Fellow is more than just working at your host site and providing youth with the necessary skills to access higher education and community service: it is also about empowering them and equipping them with the necessary tools to become a part of the village that raises a child, that raises and creates a community. Now that I find myself present in Dorchester, I find myself a visitor and resident of the community, but I am also working towards empowering others to collectively work towards strengthening the fabric that makes up the community of Dorchester and Boston, which is what keeps me at a state of inspiration and innovation in this community.  

2. What projects are you most excited for at your host site this year?

One of the major things that I am looking forward to working on is creating a collaborative project between the social justice-oriented organizations in Boston working in unison towards empowering and providing a series of workshops and trainings for youth, which is what I am currently working on as a Teens Lead @ Work Fellow with MassCOSH and with the Greater Boston Labor Council’s Futures Committee. One of the major projects that I am working on for early January is to bring in colleges/universities, local unions, and nonprofit organizations to provide opportunities for youth who are looking outside and are planning for their careers after graduating from high school, which is something that many of our youth are ill-equipped with. I have worked over the past four years with underrepresented youth accessing higher education and financial resources to turn higher education dreams into reality, and providing such resources with a social justice angle of approach accompanied with the strength and the vital role that unions play in our community and society, I believe that such work and project will address many of the gaps that we currently see in our beloved community of Boston.

3. What do you do to practice self-care?

I love food and I love music, which are two major things that keep me sane, so I turn these into two things that I love: collecting records and cooking food! Whether it be an Django Reinhardt record being played while I cook a few whelk with yellow squash and quinoa or spin one of Tupac’s vinyl while I am dicing up some tomatoes to accompany a great Burrata cheese with a refreshing drink, it’s always about finding a balance between both to relax me after a productive day at my host site. At the end of the day, self-care is about putting oneself at the focal point of the universe, of bringing yourself to a homeostatic position where everything is not just in a state of perfect equilibrium, but also in a position of comfort, of ease, of replenishing the mind and soul. Bring me a good amount of vegetables, a main entree to compliment it, and a good record to spin on my record player, and I’ll be set!     

4. What is your favorite part about working with young people?

Young individuals have been at the nexus of progressive, innovative, and sustainable change in our society throughout the decades and centuries. From the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to the Black Panthers, Occupy Movement, and #BlackLivesMatter, it has always been the voice and collective power of youth who have created and sustained positive ripple effects in our community, calling out the issues that affect us all as well as bringing a call to action to the members that make up the fabric of our community. Working with these individuals as both being a part of this community and serving as a facilitator throughout such change brings me in a position where I can share the privileges that I have gained over the years, using them as a means of empowering the next generation of leaders who will then pass on such knowledge to those who follow in their footsteps, and so forth. As Tupac once stated, it’s not necessarily about working toward changing the world, but also focusing on sparking the minds that will change the world. We have to think for both the short- and long-run when it comes to creating sustainable change and empowering youth to work in these circles, to become the next generation of leaders who will help provide for the world and our community. It’s about bringing rigor, relevance, relationships, and responsibility while coupling it with taking a stand on progressive values and empowering the next generation of leaders – this is what drives me to work with young people!

5. What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind in both MPF and your host site?

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the [wo]man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”  –Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

It is too early in the Fellowship year to understand or know as to what kind of a legacy it is that I want to leave both at MassCOSH and at MPF. In fact, I believe that it will take years for me to even see or understand the kind of legacy that I left behind in these two amazing organizations, but one thing that I am certain of is that I am approaching this as that of a gardener than that of a lawn-cutter: it is about providing the necessary resources for those roses who will definitely grow from the concrete in which they find themselves in.

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