By Mekialaya White
With each 12-week course offered at Denver Healing Generations, Jojo Padilla and John Perez are working to build a generation of successful young men and women.
“The work we do is rooted in the mission of reconnecting Chicano, Chicana, Latino, Latina, Native, all people of color, to indigenous teachings of healing, community, and perseverance,” said Program Manager Perez. “We do that through the ‘la cultura cura’ framework which literally translates to ‘culture cures.’ What we’re really intentional about is providing conscious programming like our ‘joven noble,’ noble youth or young men, like our ‘girasol’ program for young women and femme-identifying young women.”
At its core, Denver Healing Generations addresses deep-rooted issues.
“What we started noticing was systemic racism that we have inflicted over time was really affecting our youth and their ability to live their sacred purpose,” said Padilla, director of the program. “So, in this past year, we started doing direct services in trauma-informed culturally rooted healing centers for youth.”
Perez says the experience concludes with a culturally rich rite of passage. “Our kids don’t get healthy rites of passage becoming a young man or becoming a young woman. It’s associated with drugs or other things.”
Caring for Denver Foundation Executive Director Lorez Meinhold is helping perpetuate their goal. The nonprofit, created by Denver voters in 2018, just awarded Denver Healing Generations a $204,000 grant.
“It’s really about diverting people to care and away from the legal system. We know at least 50% of people who are in jails or prisons have one or more mental health or substance misuse issues. We can’t arrest our way out of mental health and substance misuse.”
Padilla and Perez are actively reducing arrests and repeat offenses by helping kids see their worth and sharing their own stories of triumph.
“Being a person of color in American society, it’s an experience that many don’t understand unless they’ve lived it. When I was a kid, due to the spaces I was raised in, I was ashamed of who I was. My dad, he had a shame that he carried for being brown. I wanted to make sure other kids didn’t feel that way. It’s taking the youth to help them understand you are sacred you were born sacred. Your mother… your grandmother is sacred, everybody in your lineage is sacred,” said Padilla. “There’s medicine and wisdom in that lineage and it can help you heal. They can heal their community.”
“They are the dreams of their ancestors, and we want our young people to realize they have that as they’re moving through the world,” added Perez.