Monthly Cultural Corner - May 2023

May 1, 2023

Cultural Spotlight: Jen Altamirano

My name is Jen Altamirano, and I am the LGBTQ+ Advocate & Trainer out of the Lancaster, CA office. I have been with Penny Lane for a little over 7months now. I come from a Native American and Hispanic background, which I discovered 2 years ago. I was born in Phoenix, Arizona and moved to North Hollywood when I was 3years old. From there we moved to the Sylmar/San Fernando Valley where both my mother’s and father’s family lived. I recall having gatherings whether it was holidays or casual parties with either family, sometimes spending part of the day with my mom’s family and the next part with my dad’s family. My dad used to say we were living the All-American dream, where family was always near and everyone attended church, played sports, or served in the Armed Forces.  My father, uncles and some cousins have served in the Armed Forces.  My father took pride in family and created our traditions that I still observe. I recall my older brother and I always being active in a sport be it t-ball, baseball, karate, basketball, softball, and football. After every practice my dad would cut up vegetables or fruit when we got home to snack on while he cooked dinner. My dad loved to cook, so much so I can’t remember if he ever allowed my mom to cook. Every night we had a cooked meal except for Wednesdays it was “free for all” where we would each snack on something that we wanted and on the weekends we either ate out or had family gatherings which consisted of potlucks or BBQ’s.

Religion was a big part of our lives growing up, we did Wednesday Catechism and Sunday church. My mom was always volunteering to read at the podium in Church which meant we usually sat in the very front. Our religion was that of my father as he was Catholic so it was assumed we would be as well. I have many fond memories of Catholicism as a child as I got older that it wasn’t necessarily the case.   When I was born, I became very sick with whooping cough at 3months old, it was while I was in the Children’s Hospital my mother leaned on religion and prayed that I’d get well and bargaining she would become sober. I learned both my parents had addiction issues regarding drugs and/or alcohol.  They both being a parent to my brother, and I was the motivation to stay sober.  

When I turned 9 my parents separated, and I had every other weekend with my dad, then it became less and less as my mom met my stepdad. I was then given the opportunity to become a big sister when my little brother came along followed by my little sister 2 years later. With so many changes my childhood became a blur, even more so when my dad passed away and my stepdad a month later. We turned into a single parent household. I have a strong memory of my mother being both mom and dad and making sure we never went without anything. She had some long days.  I tried to help with my younger siblings and occasionally babysat kids in the neighborhood to earn cash.  I didn’t want to ask my mom for help since she was doing so much for us. By the time I reached 17 and about to graduate I decided I would follow my dad’s footsteps and join the US Army. Since I was only 17 my mom had to sign a waiver to allow me.  She believed that it was what I wanted and would do great.

As I became 18 and well on my way in the US Army, finishing boot camp in South Carolina and AIT training in Virginia I returned to California where I served as a Reservists for 6 years. By the time I was 19 I had deployed to Iraq for a year and returned with the mindset of being my true self.  This was when I came out to my mother as Lesbian and when I decided to move out on my own. I held my sexuality in private, afraid to come out, to my surprise I had more open arms of acceptance than I had imagined. Sadly, my mother took a couple of years to accept me as me. But living on my own with a cousin or having rooms mates who were part of my LGBTQ+ community I always had plenty of support. They say sometimes family may not always be blood and I feel it’s true. Although I have supportive family, I have an extra family within my LGBTQ+ Community. I call us a Chosen Family, and as a family we share many good memories from Gal-entines Day, Friends-Giving, and Chosen Family Christmas, where we are all together on Christmas day. We take trips and have shared many milestones and new beginnings with each other. My Chosen Family has been there through all the good and bad. My happiest adulthood memory was the day I married my wife with all my Chosen Family attending as well as officiating. The community I embrace is the best part of me, and I’m proud of who I am and who I will continue to be. Since becoming part of Penny Lane Centers and experiencing so much positive teamwork, understanding and acceptance, as well as becoming part of a program that is giving me the opportunity to be a voice for the youth and young adults in my community, I feel this is EXACTLY where I was destined to be. As I sit here typing I reflect on my life and see the many good and bad things with the good outweighing the bad. The culture I embrace is full of diversity, acceptance, community, and love, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

-Jen Altamirano, Penny Lane Centers

Check out some photos of my chosen family, my wife, and more below!

Ralph Yarl: A PLC Email Thread

This is Ralph Yarl.  He is 16 years old.  He is a scholar and a musician.

On Thursday night, (4/13), Ralph Yarl, of Kansas City, MO, was asked by his mother to go and pick up his twin brothers from a friend’s home.  Mom gave Ralph the address, but he got the streets mixed up and landed at Northeast 115th Street instead of Northeast 115th Terrace.  Ralph rang the doorbell and waited for a response.  The homeowner reportedly shot through a glass door, which fractured Ralph’s skull.  Ralph was then shot a second time as he was on the ground.  Miraculously, Ralph was able to get up and run for help.  Ralph went to three houses before someone helped him.  Ralph was hospitalized and released on Sunday, (4/16).  He is expected to make a full recovery

The homeowner has since been identified and arrested.  The homeowner is an elderly white male.  He reported that he saw a black man and feared that he was breaking into his home.  Ralph was simply standing at the door waiting for his brothers.  

We have heard time and again about Black men and boys being gunned down, most often ending in their death.  We know that racism is at the heart of these killings.  We are keenly aware of the persistent violence that continues to impact the African American community and yet there is still little being done to combat this.  Just yesterday, I was asked how we get those biases and hate to come to the table so we can understand the root of these issues and how we can collaborate to effect change.  Sadly, I did not have a good answer, but I know that the conversations must continue, no matter how difficult they may be.  We have “The Talk” with our black men, but that won’t keep them safe from those who are out to hurt them.  We need to have “The Talk” with those who are doing the harm.  It is our collective hope that we can someday come together through empathy and understanding to stop the violence towards all marginalized communities.

I am forever thankful that Ralph is doing well and that he has not become just another name that we chant as we protest.

With love and light,
Judy Grant

Thoughts from our Racial Justice Committee:

I am outraged and heartbroken for this young man and his family….and all of us who must try and unpack yet another senseless act of violence due to the threat of our skin color. This boy’s only crime was walking up to the wrong doorstep with the wrong skin color, which should never be a crime at all. It is as if he walked up to the door with real weapons visible to the man as he looked out to see who rang the bell.
And to think that he ran away and sought help from others who also refused to assist, most likely also due to his skin color, is sickening and frightening. Even in our most vulnerable states, people in this society will see our skin color before they see US and that is simply tragic.
I too continue to hear that young man’s question over and over in my head “why don’t they like us”. I am so sad for this generation of young folks who are not getting the history lessons to explain where this all started and who truly do not understand the threat that is simply their skin ☹. Thanks for sending the email Judy as we must continue to remind ourselves that there is endless work to be done. I am so glad to work for an agency that will acknowledge this. -Fanta Ritchie, Penny Lane Centers

I wonder if there is any information on the response of the man who shot him.  Any remorse?  I am not sure if I really want to know that answer ☹ but I feel like that is the other half of the story.
Also – this shows just how much this work needs to be done.  I think every white person should be given a “Talk” about how to not be racists.  What would “the talk” look like for white people? Hmmmm….  I feel the beginnings of an article brewing in my brain.   -Diane Nunn, Penny Lane Centers
How awful that this happened. Thank God he is going to be all right. It is sad that there are people with so much hate I ask myself why? Another question is this young man needed help and he had to go to 3 houses until someone helped.
I have always lived my life trying to help anyone who needs it my mother instilled that in us as children. Thanks Judy, for bringing this our attention. -Erik Ingebrigsten, Penny Lane Centers
God blesses this young man with life an opportunity. It is a miracle that he has recovered. -Judith Sandino, Penny Lane Centers
Can we do something like a public service message (Something like- “Please help stop the disproportionate amount of violence towards black men and boys…..)   -Carolyn Johnson, Penny Lane Centers
So glad he is going to make it too!
Can you imagine what his mom must have felt? Ugh. -Jacqueline McGill, Penny Lane Centers
I felt sad, angry frustrated. I cried and am crying as I type this e-mail. Even though he will make a full recovery I don’t think anyone for sure knows the consequences, physical and emotional, such experience will have on such a young and beautiful HUMAN. My prayers are with him and his family. -Leticia Rivera, Penny Lane Centers

I want to thank the PLC staff for sharing their thoughts, feelings, outrage, confusion, and frustration.  We are all invested in our efforts to dismantle racism.  We are committed to doing the work and effecting change in our communities.  We cannot afford for another Ralph, Breonna, George, and so many others, to continue to be harmed and killed due to a little melanin.  In what world is that okay?  Help stop the hate!

Below, please find a link to Ralph’s Go Fund Me as well as a brief update on how he is doing today.

Ralph is currently at home with the family. He can ambulate and communicate. A true miracle considering what he survived. Each day is different. He has a long road ahead. However, we are very thankful that he is still here with us. I've been taking the time to read the emails and comments to Ralph. It warms our hearts to see him smile at all the kind words.

Thank you so much for loving Ralph!

Additional Losses in April

While this story focused on Ralph, I cannot leave out Kaylin and Payton, who were also victims of unprovoked gun violence.  On April 15th, 2023 20 year old Kaylin Gillis was shot and killed while she and friends turned into the wrong driveway when looking for a friend’s home.  65 year old Kevin Monahan fired two shots from his porch in Upstate NY, killing Kaylin.

On April 19th, 2023 18 year old Payton Washington was shot in the leg and back when she and friends, returning home from cheerleading practice, stopped at a designated carpool site in Texas.  A friend of Payton’s accidentally tried to get into the wrong car.  25 year old, Pedro Rodriguez, Jr., opened fire on the car, grazing one and critically injuring Payton.  

Sending love and light to all three of these beautiful souls.

-Judy Grant, Penny Lane Centers