Meet Coleman Leaders Rosie, Yasmara, and Gina!

 Rosie Balberan


A student at Balboa High and the youngest of three siblings, Rosie was born and raised in Southeast San Francisco. She first learned about Coleman and YMAC (Youth Making a Change – Coleman’s high school youth organizing project) at a School Club Fair her freshman year. Coleman is a co-founder and helps to lead the Solidarity Organizing Project (SOP) – a formal Club at Balboa High – in collaboration with POWER, Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center and faculty at the school.  SOP brings together youth members of multiple organizations to participate in joint leadership development and civic engagement activities and projects. After a semester of active participation in SOP, Rosie accepted a friend’s invitation t visit the Coleman community center after school one day. Within no time, it was as if she had always been part of the Coleman family.  Now a sophomore, Rosie is a full-fledged “Colmie” and one of the organization’s strongest leaders, of any age.

Among other leadership roles, Rosie joined staff and other leaders in Chicago earlier this year to co-facilitate a workshop on youth organizing and build with other education equity organizations at the Free Minds, Free People conference. She also participated in a learning exchange in Los Angeles with community groups that helped win the landmark School Climate Bill of Rights for LAUSD.

Rosie says the issue she is currently most eager to organize around is SFUSD disciplinary practices and policies. “This issue is really important. I know a lot of people affected by suspensions and getting kicked out of school for unfair reasons,” Rosie explained. “The school didn’t resolve the problem or handle it in a good way.”

Rosie is a firm believer in a Restorative Justice (RJ) approach to discipline issues and is excited to advocate for the expansion of RJ strategies in SFUSD.  She also looks forward to playing a local leadership role in promoting the National Student Bill of Rights, an effort to bring together youth from across the country to define a youth vision for education and social justice. “A lot of students are not aware of the few rights they have and the other rights that they should have,” Rosie shared. “Also, adults and people in authority should realize and respect student rights. I want to make sure people know about these rights.”  More than anything, Rosie says she is excited about this school year because she is looking forward to “stepping up more and becoming a stronger leader and supporting other students to speak up and have a voice”.


Yasmara Moraga

The proud mother of a 1st grader at Cleveland Elementary School, Yasmara lives with her family in the Excelsior district of San Francisco and has worked primarily in the janitorial field in the eight years since she came to the U.S from El Salvador.

Yasmara was inspired to attend her first PMAC (Parents Making a Change – Coleman’s parent organizing project) meeting over a year ago after a Coleman Parent Organizer approached her at her child’s school and engaged with her about her concerns as a parent and her ideas about improvements to the school.

Yasmara has since recruited new members to PMAC, led a range of fundraising efforts for school resources, and played leadership roles in multiple PMAC efforts, including a successful campaign to expand tutoring and literacy resources for students at the school.

Yasmara is famous among her peers in PMAC for being a wealth of information. She is constantly on the hunt for free educational, cultural and other enrichment opportunities for her daughter and regularly shares all the information that she assertively compiles. At every PMAC meeting, she brings new and useful information about free or low cost programs, services, and resources for low-income children and families.

Yasmara looks forward to recruiting more parents this year to take a more active role in their children’s education and help improve Cleveland. In particular, she has concerns about staffing stability at the school. Yasmara explained that it creates challenges for the students and the community when teachers are constantly coming and going.

Yasmara’s guiding dream responded that she dreams of her daughter graduating from college one day and she hopes that she will be able to be a strong source of help and support to her daughter along the way.  Yasmara has a powerful faith in the capacity of parents to transform schools and she is committed to working hard to get more parents engaged in their children’s education and in making positive changes at Cleveland.


Gina Rivera

Before moving to San Francisco last year, Gina worked as a youth advocate around issues of sexual violence in a nonprofit in Chicago, where she was born and raised. This is Gina’s fourth semester at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) and her 2nd semester as a SMAC (Students Making a Change – Coleman’s community college student organizing program) leader. Gina’s academic goal at CCSF is to complete an Associate Degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences and transfer to Berkeley to study Engineering.

Gina’s describes her time with SMAC as life-changing and credits the experience as helping her to define her life goals.  Gina has always felt a sense of duty and responsibility to give back to her community, but it was after joining SMAC that she felt, for the first time, like she had the power to make real change and create genuine opportunities for other struggling young people.

After SMAC helped win English and Math accelerated course implementation at CCSF, for example, through some initial outreach, it became clear to SMAC that, for the most part, students were not aware of or taking advantage of the new course options. SMAC initiated – and Gina helped to lead – an aggressive outreach campaign to educate students about their new options and opportunities.  When Gina and some of the other SMAC leaders went to go check out the new Math 45X class (one of the newly one accelerated options that combines two previous courses), it was a standing room only crowd in the classroom. The large numbers of students validated the urgency and importance of the policy win (and the student outreach) and even made a case for more classes along these lines. Students were saving time and money and moving closer to achieving their dreams of transfer to a four year university. Gina describes feeling elated and proud that day observing the fruits of her labor.

Another highlight for Gina was traveling to Sacramento to testify before the State Assembly Higher Education Committee in favor of SB 440, a bill designed to strengthen transfer in California, and significantly increase the number of college students that earn an associate degree and transfer to the four-year state university system. By the time Gina was testifying in the Capitol, she was fully versed on the ins and outs of the legislation, having helped to facilitated focus groups at CCSF about SB 440. The focus groups served to both educate students about the opportunities the legislation would create and get feedback from students about the need for the changes and the likelihood that they would take advantage of proposed reforms.

This semester, Gina is excited to continue to support students in understanding and taking full advantage of all the resources available to them and advocating for new resources to help students achieve their academic goals. Gina is also committed to increasing the numbers of faculty, counselors and administrators that come from low-income communities of color. She understands through experience how crucial it is that students see people who look like them and have had similar life experiences so that they can have tangible role models and not feel so marginalized and misunderstood in their educational experiences.

Gina expresses tremendous gratitude for the opportunities she has been given to build her consciousness, skills, and confidence through Coleman trainings, retreats, and mentorship from staff.  She says she feels like she is growing every day as a student and an adult who understands how policies are developed and won and how organizations are built and managed. One of the most powerful parts of being a SMACer, Gina explains, is that “I can be myself. I am valued for who I am and the skills I bring to the group.”

Gina dreams of one day opening a nonprofit that will serve as a safe and nourishing space for low-income women of color to get support to achieve their educational goals, a space where women of color feel valued and uplifted and supported and can gain the confidence and skills to make it in this world, despite all the barriers they face.

AUG 22, 2013