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FLOC’S “Homies Union” Program Helping At-Risk Youth

Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent

 

Baldemar Velásquez, founder and president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), is proud of the progress being made with community organizing efforts among young, at-risk people in the barrio—as they seek a better life than gangs and guns.

 

He intends to have “four classes of street kids” in the Homies program. The first group of four students is a small class on purpose, in order to “iron the kinks out of the program.”

 

Those first students will be placed in jobs that reflect their interest. They’ll attend two-hour classes focused on conflict resolution, nonviolence, and community organizing.

 

“These are the problems they highlighted and they identified themselves,” said Velásquez. “The first group of students highlighted problems with police, poverty, and jobs as their biggest challenges in life. It’s interesting because the kids identified with the problems that affect our adult population.”

 

Former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and other local leaders encouraged the FLOC founder and president to focus his efforts on Toledo, doing the same things he had done to organize migrant farmworkers in North Carolina and elsewhere.

 

“I only know how to do one thing—organize people and get them to identify their own problems and learn to advocate for themselves,” said Velásquez. “So we started to bring these kids together last summer. When they started meeting here, they set some rules themselves. Every kid that came in here had to read those to make it a safe area. In fact, they even searched kids that came in here to make sure they didn’t have weapons or drugs or anything.”

 

“We had opposing gang members meeting here, reconciling issues, putting the principles we were training them into practice,” said Velásquez.

 

The four students from the first class even held “house meetings,” in their own homes to obtain commitments and confirmations from others to attend future associate membership meetings. The next one will be held Wednesday evening, March 11, 2015 at FLOC headquarters on Broadway. Previous meetings have been held on Friday nights. Velásquez explained meetings are being moved to other evenings “to see what works best for the community.”

 
 

 

 

The next group to enter the Homies program may be as many as a dozen, but the FLOC founder doesn’t want to go above that number “because it takes time to train them individually.”

 

One of the biggest parts of the FLOC Homies Union is an employment readiness and youth empowerment program, which involves 16 weeks of training. The program provides paid positions for participants to learn the basics of leadership and community organizing. Youths are identified by FLOC staff for inclusion in the program, where they will be taught job-seeking strategies, employment readiness, understanding power structures, résumé writing, building social capital, and civic engagement skills.

 

“On the employment side, each one has a program tailored individually,” said Velásquez, citing one participant who was placed in a recording studio so he can develop his love of recording and hip-hip while learning that trade firsthand.

 

Participants are placed at a work site in the community to gain first-hand experience and put into practice all of the information they learn in the trainings.

 

“We have a deal with that studio so that he’s getting mentored and supervised,” explained Velásquez. “So he’s getting mentored at work and mentored here. He’s going to be an important part of the Homies program, because he’s a poor white kid. We need to reach out to the poor white kids, not just the Latino kids.”

 

Velásquez explained the Homies program for young people is running parallel to another program aimed at adults, which is being run by Ramón Pérez and Monica Morales. The FLOC founder held a “train the trainer” for the pair, who will lead the next class of adults. Velásquez also stated the best kids in the current Homies program will help to train and mentor the next group of Homies.

 

“By the time these kids get done with the next round of training, we can release Monica and Ramón to do something else,” he said. “They'll run their own trainings. It builds on itself.”

 

Velásquez stated FLOC now has about 160 associate members, people who have joined the group and received membership cards. By the end of the year, Velásquez hopes to have 300 to 400 associate members in the program, including youth.

 

“At some point it will have critical mass and will take off on its own,” he said. "That’s the way I do it with the migrant workers. We build up a mass organization and then we ask for recognition and negotiate agreements. This is essentially the same pattern we’re going to do with the city. We carved out that meeting with the police department based on this movement.”

 

Pérez and retired college professor Dr. Manuel Caro are working on the six-hour curriculum police recruits will learn about Latino culture, in order to better relate while walking the beat.

 

“We’re getting [an opportunity] at the [police] academy to teach them about us,” he said. "We'll broker some workshops about first-contact relations, for when you first encounter a cop. Our kids will know what to do, how to behave—but so will the cops. We want to broker that dialogue immediately with the police. If you start on the wrong foot, it goes downhill from there.”

 

Velásquez is planning a big assembly of the associate members sometime in the fall or winter to elect their own spokespersons. The FLOC leadership will work with them “to build an organization of the poor in Toledo.”

 

“We’re really reaching the more marginalized members of our community—the kids that have fallen off the deep end, the kids that are out of school,” he said. “Some of these Homies—we’re getting them back in school, getting their GEDs and we’re trying to push for more education for them. One of the issues that has surfaced for the kids is getting Latino culture into the curriculum at Toledo Public Schools.”

 

Velásquez stated his group is negotiating that issue directly with TPS leaders with the help of the Toledo Federation of Teachers. He stated TFT President Kevin Dalton “has been supportive” and that has helped at the bargaining table.

 

If someone is interested in joining the FLOC Homies Union program, they can contact Peter Meinecke at 419-243-3456 or send an email to pmeinecke@floc.com

 

 
Copyright © 1989 to 2015 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 03/03/15 20:08:33 -0800.

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