Valeska Gutierrez, 19, stood on the corner of 46th and Market in Oakland, waiting on the bus, as she headed toward her job one Sunday evening in the early fall. The sun was beginning to set as a white SUV approached the stop sign near the bus stop. A young man’s voice called out to her, the “girl in the white shirt,” and this greeting was followed by an obscene comment—a hollow attempt at courting the young lady.
Gutierrez immediately shook her head in disgust as she said softly to herself, “Sometimes, I hate being a woman.”
In addition to working multiple jobs and attending college courses at Laney College, Gutierrez, an Afro-Latina Woman from Oakland, is vice- president of the NAACP’s California-Hawaii youth chapter. During her chapter’s semi-annual meeting in San Mateo, Gutierrez was in charge of developing a youth panel in which participants would address ethics of conduct between young men and women. The conference took place 2 weeks after Gutierrez’s incident with the man in the car.
The incident isn’t something that is new in Gutierrez’s generation or in Oakland. The Mentoring Center, a non-profit organization located in Oakland’s Preservation Parkway, focuses on community change through working with previously incarcerated youth. The organization looks to end cycles of disrespect, starting with teaching others to respect themselves.
Kehinde Koyejo a facilitator at the Mentoring Center, grew up in Oakland and, like Gutierrez, has experienced some of the same unwanted attention from young men in the community. Koyejo has developed a personal system to deal with this problem and a curriculum to teach other young women the same: start with respecting yourself, surround yourself with friends, family and a community that respects you as well, she said.
Achebe Hoskins, director and facilitator at the Mentoring Center, said that the cycle of disrespect must stop with us. “It’s up to us to say, ‘even if I’m rejected, I did what I needed to do in terms of my part in pulling together our relationships.’”
Gutierrez, shares a similar sentiment. “I’ve always been told that you’re not here for yourself, and that what you go through and your circumstances and what transpired in your life somehow makes an impact on someone else,” she said.