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  • Writer's pictureAdriana Aguilar

Creating access and opportunities can foster building trust among communities

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Communities in Santa Monica are very much interconnected to one another. We can’t speak about one group without speaking about the other. 

In 2019, Marco Marin piloted “Latinx/Ethiopian Community Workshops” through the Wellbeing Microgrant Program— these workshops brought together the Latinx and Ethiopian communities in the Pico neighborhood of Santa Monica to discuss shared experiences and challenges that both face. Being a long-time community advocate, Marin understood the importance of creating mutual understanding across both communities' cultures and realities to connect, trust, pivot, and strengthen their partnership; therefore, one of the intentions was to work alongside Ethiopian community leader, Mulugeta Tadele to ultimately, advocate together for better access, resources and inclusivity within the City of Santa Monica.

One of the issues that was highlighted during “Latinx/Ethiopian Community Workshops” was the language barrier. There were more Spanish speakers than English speakers, which created communication gaps and prevented mutual understanding. A solution offered was for Marin to bring in ESL / GED classes in which Ethiopian community members had an opportunity to learn Spanish. Afterward,  the Ethiopian community felt the need to self-organize, therefore they did and became a stronger presence within the community of Santa Monica. This led to the beginning of building political power within their community.

Recognizing the importance of the Ethiopian community's engagement and involvement, Alemu Negaru applied to the Wellbeing Microgrant Program and eventually led two projects to continue their integration in the Westside.  In 2020, Alemu led a project called “Creating Election Awareness for the Ethiopian Community in Santa Monica”. The project aimed to increase voter turnout and registration rates among the Ethiopian community. One of the key highlights of their efforts was the distribution of impartial information in both Amharic and English. The information was intended to explain the importance of voting and the breakdown of candidates and local and statewide issues. The project took particular care to note the importance of language access and ensured that information was available in both languages.

After organizing themselves, they saw the importance of creating a voluntary ad-hoc committee to continue bringing Ethiopian community members residing in Santa Monica together. Alemu then led the “Santa Monica Ethiopian Community Group”. Through this project, the ad-hoc committee aimed to successfully organize their first in-person meeting in August 2021, to then become a nonprofit organization, “Ethiopian Community in Santa Monica” (ECOMISM) later that year in December. 

For their community, it was just the beginning” they reached 85 families, and worked with Community Corporation of Santa Monica to connect with 16 of their affordable housing buildings. Their platform grew from 7 to 19 volunteers.  Ultimately, the Wellbeing Microgrant Program opened a pathway for Alemu and the Ethiopian community to address issues that were affecting their community.

The [Wellbeing Microgrant] program motivated me to apply for the Virginia Avenue Park Advisory Board which I am now part of.” Alemu said.

The Ethiopian community, like the Latinx community, has faced challenges that prevent them from fully integrating and achieving their maximum potential. However, community organizations such as Familias Latinas Unidas, PCG, and ECOMISM, along with programs like the Wellbeing Microgrant Program, have found creative ways to build trust and create a more equitable and inclusive environment

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