My name is Fong Tran and I’m currently the Program Coordinator in the Center Community School Partnership under the UC Davis School of Education. I’m a proud graduate of UC Berkeley and received a degree in Social Welfare and doubled minor in education & public policy. Raised by a strong-willed, single mother with 4 other siblings, I grew up in low income, subsidized housing under government assistance and food stamps. I was one of only three students from my high school to attend UC Berkeley so many would consider me a success story from the disadvantaged hood of South Sacramento.
My older brother, however walked a much different path. He grew up as non-English speaking refugee from the context of the Vietnam War. He, my mother and my 2 older siblings escaped Vietnam and lived in the refugee camps of the Philippines for more than 8 months until they were sponsored to America. As a teenager, he was out-casted for being a foreigner and he found it hard to keep up in school. Because he couldn’t speak English, he couldn’t find a job. He turned to the gang life for money and self-respect. He dropped out by the tenth grade and was incarcerated three times. Luckily, this was before the three strikes law was instituted otherwise I don’t know where my brother would be. After his third sentence, a family friend decided to invest in my brother’s vocational training and now, he is a successful contractor with a girlfriend and a beautiful 1 year old daughter.
Looking back, he and I were no different in intelligence, skills and or parental upbringing. The one factor that differentiated our life paths was that I had opportunities and resources that he never had. I had mentors that believed in me and programs that nurture my leadership and skills. Someone decided to invest in my brother 3 jail terms too late. After dropping out. After being gang involved and incarcerated. After many family heartaches. We, as the State of California cannot make the same mistake. We cannot think to make the investment later when the most effective time to believe in our young men of color is right now.
Today, I am a community organizer for the Boys and Men of Color Partnership in Sacramento. I help young men discouraged by zero tolerance school discipline policies, previous gang members, homeless and foster youth with opportunities that they have been denied from for so long. These opportunities include leadership conferences, employment work programs and personal mentorship. In a time when young men of color are three times more likely to drop out of school, be out of work or be incarcerated, we must provide more opportunities and break down more barriers than ever. The issue only continues to manifest as the economy makes jobs more competitive and unattainable for underprivileged communities. By the year 2018, two thirds of all jobs will require a college degree or additional training after high school, which only means breaking barriers for men of color more urgent. I whole-heartedly believe that investing in youth is the greatest form of social change but as Dr. Martin Luther King would say we must “remind America of the fierce urgency of now”.
This is my submission for the KVIE Perspective California Report Commentaries Project.