By Kpbs.org (Priya Sridhar)
Halima Musa and her cousins are part of a group called City Heights Youth for Change, made up mostly of first generation African refugee students from City Heights. In the past few years, the group has worked to get halal food into San Diego schools so kids could have healthy and culturally appropriate choices. They also worked to get voter registration numbers up in their neighborhood.
Now, the group has completed a survey of 300 City Heights young people to document how they view their community.
Musa and her cousins moved to City Heights from Kenya as young kids. Now, the young women are in college and have made it their mission to be ambassadors of City Heights to the rest of San Diego.
“Most of the time when the media comes into City Heights it’s only to report on stuff that’s bad. But when youth are being involved in political action or being involved in their school nobody’s really there to showcase it and let people know that the youth in City Heights are really invested in their community,” Musa said.
She says they wanted to control the dialogue about where they grew up and let local leaders know what the next generation thinks they need to focus on.
“We felt that as City Heights youth, we are never really at the forefront of telling what City Heights is like. So we wanted to get other input from youth like us and get them to tell us how they feel City Heights can be improved or how it is now,” she said.
Their latest survey took almost two years to complete. The group looked at young people’s feelings towards law enforcement and educators and safety in their community.
They found that as City Heights youth got older, their relationships with law enforcement became more negative. They also found that young men were more likely to have a negative relationship with police than young women.
“Most of the younger kids that were the same age as me, they don’t really trust the police either because of the conflicts that happen between the youth and the police officers,” said Sahra Mkoma, a member of City Heights Youth for Change and Musa’s cousin.
Not all of the findings were negative, Musa says she was surprised by some of the positive perceptions young people had of City Heights, like the way they saw their teachers.
“We found that most students feel like their teachers are really engaged in what they’re learning and they’re really helping them throughout the process in helping them become better students and better people. But they just don’t have the resources to make sure that their students are actually successful,” she said.
The other big takeaway — the young women hope gets the attention of City Heights leaders — is the youth’s perception of safety in their community. They found that as young people got older, they tended to feel less safe. They also found that young people felt the least safe in parks around schools in City Heights.
“People feel like schools, specifically parks surrounded by schools, are the most unsafe parts of the community, which I feel like should change because that’s usually where kids spend their time,” Musa said.
Isha Mkoma, Musa’s other cousin says even though City Heights needs some improvements she wants the rest of San Diego to know how great her neighborhood is.
“It’s a great community to live in, the people are very friendly, it’s very diverse and everybody … once you tell them to come to a place they will all be helpful, they’re very helpful around here,” Mkoma said.