Building Culture, Building Community at the RYSE Center

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Building Culture, Building Community at the RYSE Center

Jordan Daniel, Culture Builder Intern, The RYSE Center


RYSE at Black Joy Parade, Oakland, CA. Photo: RYSE Center.

Since 2008, The RYSE Center has engaged more than 10,000 youth ages 13–24 across diverse communities in California’s West Contra Costa County and Bay Area with programming and services focused on community health and wellness; education, career, and economic justice; youth justice; media, arts, and culture; and youth leadership and organizing.

Jordan (far right) performs with fellow RYSE Performing Arts Interns. Photo: RYSE Center.

Located in Richmond, California, RYSE works to create safe spaces grounded in social justice that build youth power for young people to love, learn, educate, heal, and transform lives and communities. In 2019, RYSE launched RYSE Commons, a youth-designed expansion project to deepen their presence as a cultural, health, and resource hub for West Contra Costa County. Jordan Daniel is a 17-year-old Culture Builder Intern at RYSE—a singer, dancer, activist, and most recently a blossoming poet. Her work highlights the harsh realities of the educational system and sexual harassment, as well as issues of depression.

Jordan has led a variety of workshops for RYSE’s Arts Now Institute, which serves West Contra Costa Unified School District teachers, and continues to explore themes of adultism and how teachers can work with students to develop healthier learning environments. In this Guest Perspective, Jordan details her experience finding a community where young people are not just heard but encouraged to lead and teach.

My name is Jordan Daniel and I identify as an artist, performer, and activist. I was born and raised in Richmond, CA. I discovered my love for singing at the age of three and for dancing at the age of four; ever since, I have been fortunate enough to have opportunities to perform in my school district, at my church, as a captain for my drill team, and elsewhere. But I wanted to explore and expand my talents, so I decided to join RYSE. I first heard of

RYSE when I saw a video of my friend performing at Berkeley’s UC Theater and then asked how she had gotten the opportunity to perform. She told me about RYSE and I decided I wanted to join—not just for those opportunities, but to meet new people as well. After she referred me to her mentor, I was even more convinced that RYSE was a good fit for me.

Jordan Daniel speaks to teachers at RYSE Teacher Professional Development. Photo: RYSE Center.

And then, right after I joined, a traumatic situation arose in my life. I hadn’t even been there a week, but RYSE helped every step of the way. That was my first time hearing the words, “What do you need?” It was also when I started to write poetry. My mentor at the time was a poet; I had never written a poem in my life, but she told me to try it. Right away, I felt a huge weight come off my shoulders. I finally had a healthy outlet that someone else could potentially relate to, and I had found a way that I could make a change that was peaceful and powerful. I was never interested in writing because I didn’t think my work would be any good, but my mentor taught me that my poems aren’t meant to please other people—they’re meant to help me process and heal my trauma. This was also true of performing, which has been an outlet for me my entire life. When I perform, I feel that I’m able to truly express myself and that people will actually listen to what I have to say, without conflict.

When RYSE provided me with that space, I knew it was the escape I’ve always craved: a space full of love and laughter; a space without judgment; a space where healing is key. I see now that I didn’t know how to heal—all I knew was how to hurt. Growing up, I was taught to suck it up, because your pain isn’t serious until you become an adult. Feelings weren’t a thing, and neither were options. So when I joined a place that preached opposite ideas, I thought I had fallen into a parallel universe. I couldn’t believe that I could make decisions for myself. I finally found a place where I could be free. 

Our counselors are also very unique. Growing up, I didn’t like the idea of talking about my problems with someone, and I had many horrible experiences with therapy. But when I was introduced to our Health Justice team, my perspective shifted immediately. They helped me understand that I don’t need to have all the answers, because they don’t have them either. In the meantime, creative self-expression can help us learn about ourselves and the world around us.

Black Joy Parade, RYSE Dancers. Photo: RYSE Center.

If I’m honest, I’ve learned more at RYSE than at school. I appreciate that they are always willing to bring someone in to help educate and provide tools for young people. Take sexual health, for instance—something that isn’t (but should be) normalized for many young people. At RYSE, we have constant conversations on how to stay protected. They create a safe space to ask questions; they provide judgment-free help; and they keep all of the restrooms stocked with feminine products. Aside from health, RYSE cares about helping youth receive a proper education, so they offer academic help. I am in a college preparatory program at RYSE called Zymbolic. Applying to college this year was one of the most stressful things I’ve ever experienced, but Zymbolic helped me submit my applications and prepare me for the transition mentally.

I joined RYSE back in 2021 and started as a Performing Arts Intern. Now, I would like to get into my community more, so I decided to become a Culture Builder Intern. I can’t wait to develop more tools to help my community. Without RYSE, I wouldn’t be who I am today. It gave me opportunities in life that I thought I’d never see—from expression to performance to community service, I’m forever grateful for all of it.

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