Listening to Black Fresno

Highlights from our conversation with Kaya Herron, California native, lover of Afrofuturism and all things magical, social justice advocate, poet, and leader at Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce.

“Black people are like beauty marks scattered across the state of California–some of us are lighter, some of us are spread out or more dense than others–but we are everywhere.”

Kaya Herron, California native, and Fresno resident.

Why does redistricting matter?

I grew up in the Bay Area and in Fairfield where my parents instilled in me the importance of going to college, which is where I got my formal political education. Redistricting is one of the keys to democracy and for America’s democracy to work it must be representative of the people. When our districts are drawn to really reflect our communities, then we can have a truly representational democracy.

What are the strengths and challenges that have shaped Black Fresno?

Fresno County has the largest agricultural production in the US. We feed the country. We have a rich farming industry and traditions of specific ethnic communities that came here to plant roots, including Black folks during the Great Migration. Fresno started as a railroad town and became an agricultural hub dependent on imported labor and water as well as massive changes to the land. That change bred distinct segregated neighborhoods that kept expanding further north. This expansion fueled by the construction of our highways–also led to the destruction of Black communities, which is the root cause of our current challenges.  

Our biggest challenge is access. This was a big theme in the COI conversations I attended. Part of our community does not have access to resources like clean water, broadband internet, and quality schools. Those who are Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and refugees have not benefited from the prosperity Fresno cultivates for our nation. Our Black communities in particular have often been these historic hubs welcoming newcomers to California, but we’ve never ourselves been fully welcomed into the prosperity of our state. We’ve not had equal access to homeownership, quality jobs, nor quality public schooling, which are all critical to building healthy communities and generational wealth.

What issues will define Black futures in Fresno?

The Central Valley is one of the last places in California where you can still afford to buy a home, so housing, poverty, and ownership will define Black futures in Fresno. Most of our people are renters because Black Fresnians haven’t had access to homeownership for seventy years due to racist practices around redlining and lending. We haven’t been prioritized when local government and developers design and build new communities, except for apartment complexes. Where we live affects our access to water and quality public education, which are fundamental and foundational needs that will define our fates and futures.

What will it look like for Black folks to not only survive, but to thrive in Fresno?

We want to see intergenerational health and wealth–Black families owning business and homes and living in the same neighborhood for generations without detriment to their health. We are thriving when Black kids are laughing, playing, and reaching the highest levels of education, achievement, and their twenty-first birthday. The key to all of this is ensuring Black people have political power and say over the issues that impact us the most.

black-lives-in-fresno

What values must guide the development of a map that protects and honors Black lives in Fresno?

Folks that I engaged with throughout the COI listening sessions reinforced the need to see our commission pay close attention to honoring historically Black neighborhoods as well as emerging Black neighborhoods in Fresno. I hope our commission looks holistically at Black communities and sees how our interests unite us with other communities. Black people are like beauty marks scattered across the state of California–some of us are lighter or darker, some of us are spread out, some are more densely clustered than others–but we are everywhere.

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