The CharterNation Blog brings you a new ongoing series called Paying It Forward which profiles charter public school graduates and allies who are giving back to their charter public school community. This week, we feature Javier Barraza, a youth organizer who graduated from Oakland Unity High School in 2016.
How do you inspire inner-city youth to advocate for their educational rights?
Javier Barraza says it begins with relationship-building.
Javier is a youth organizer for Families in Action (FIA), a non-profit organization that helps students and families in Oakland advocate for access to high-quality schools.
To build trust and allyship with high school students, Javier’s daily schedule is filled with informal meetings with students on campuses in Oakland, engaging them in authentic, meaningful conversations about their personal stories and how they can harness their energy to fight for better schools and resources.
“I really do believe that each student in Oakland deserves a quality education,” Barraza says. “My goal is to give students the confidence needed, and the skills needed, so they can advocate for themselves.”
Javier has a special connection to young people in Oakland because he was born and raised in Oakland as well. He graduated from Oakland Unity High School, one of eight comprehensive charter public high schools in the Oakland area, following in the footsteps of his siblings and relatives who also graduated from that school.
“All in all, about nine of my family members graduated from Oakland Unity, and two of my younger brothers attend the school right now. So, yes, the Barraza family is deeply rooted in Oakland Unity. We have a lot of love and respect for that school because it offered all of us a good education.”
Javier credits Oakland Unity’s small school size for keeping him focused in high school. He was able to build trusting relationships with teachers who provided one-on-one academic support and the encouragement he needed to become an assertive student leader.
Javier says he’s paying it forward now by being a mentor to high school students at five Oakland public schools through his work at FIA. One of those schools is his high school alma mater, Oakland Unity High. Check out this video clip where Javier explains why this work is so important to him:
“I feel like this how I can help my community. Students at Oakland Unity and across Oakland have so much power. My job is to help them realize that power for themselves … and once they do, they're unstoppable.”
Javier’s talent for youth organizing can be traced back to his high school sophomore year when he began participating in social justice clubs and programs. A defining moment came when he organized other students to support a citywide effort to raise the minimum wage.
That experience led him to pursue an internship at CCSA where he uncovered his true passion – education advocacy.
“People who don’t like charter schools in Oakland will do whatever they can to take away those options from Black and Brown families who rely on them. That pushes me to stay involved in this work.”
This year as FIA’s youth organizer, Javier manages student-led advocacy campaigns that deal with topics such as school closures and college readiness. Currently, one of FIA’s biggest initiatives is activating students so they speak out against Oakland Unified’s dismal A-G completion rate.
A-G completion rate refers to the number of high school students who have taken an passed a sequence of courses that make them eligible for UC or CSU admission. Javier says in Oakland, many students either don’t know about the requirement or some schools lack the resources to offer the full A-G sequence of courses.
“A-G is a really big one that we’re focusing on,” he says. “Part of what I’m doing is making sure students and families are aware and understand what A-G is, educating them about the importance of this requirement.”
Javier points to some charter public high schools in Oakland that have already made big gains to increase college readiness among their students by requiring A-G completion before graduation, as well as ensuring students pass those courses with a C or better.
Javier is also intently focused this year on educating students and parents about the upcoming election and why it’s crucial to support candidates in local races who are committed to providing more rigorous public school options in Oakland Unified. Three school board seats are open, as well as the mayoral seat.
Javier says while it’s exciting to see these campaigns take shape and gain traction, the most rewarding part of his job is seeing the transformation of the students he works with.
“I see students who, at first, are super shy but once they gain the confidence, they’re speaking in front of 300 or 400 people. That’s one of the highs from this job. I just love being able to see my youth grow and become confident at such a young age.”
- To learn more about Families In Action, check out its website!
- To learn more about Oakland Unity High School in Oakland, click here!
This blog story was written by Ana Tintocalis, CCSA's Senior Director of Media Relations and Editorial Content. She is a frequent contributor to the CharterNation Blog. Got a good charter school story? Contact her at email@example.com.