While the election may look like it is wrapping up, it is just beginning for LaToya Fernandez who is running for a seat on the San Jose City Council in 2022.
Fernandez, 32, an educator, activist and community leader, said she intends to bring equity and representation to District 3. She would replace Councilmember Raul Peralez, who is expected to run for mayor.
Fernandez said her priorities would be working with the Office of Racial Equity to create a pipeline from diverse communities to positions serving on boards and commissions at City Hall.
Concerned about housing and homelessness, she said she would work with tech companies to create programs for students, attached to jobs and housing. Fernandez said she also would support economic development, helping disadvantaged residents start small businesses.
Raj Jayadev, founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug, a grassroots media and organizing collective, described Fernandez as an uncompromising leader on the forefront of making unprecedented change. Jayadev said Fernandez anchored and led the Black Lives Matter protests, igniting power in youth.
“LaToya brings an extremely powerful dynamism, brilliance and value-based form of leadership that’s magnetic to communities looking to radically transform opportunity for young people who felt unheard and communities of color who felt disenfranchised,” Jayadev said.
Jayadev said Fernandez created a seat at the table for young people regarding issues such as police on campus and protesters’ rights.
“You’ll see her legacy in young people taking leadership who were touched by the opportunities LaToya provided for them,” he said.
Fernandez worked as a humanities teacher at Rocketship Discovery Prep and both as restorative justice coordinator and dean of students at Downtown College Prep Middle School.
She founded QueenHype and YouthHype to teach self esteem, self awareness and leadership. Fernandez said she founded QueenHype after realizing fifth-grade girls in her class at Discovery Prep lacked the confidence to raise their hands. It worked; the class rose 2.2 reading levels in one year, she said.
Her said her approach to restorative practices and justice was student-centered, student-driven and student-lead. Following teasing, sexual harassment or a fight, students were brought together to discuss the situation, sharing the impact it had on them and teaching empathy.
The impact was that it created a stronger community, Principal P. Anthony Cuevas said, adding chronic absenteeism and suspensions decreased as students felt safer and heard.
“She taught students to believe in themselves and be the leaders and the change they want to see in the world,” Cuevas said. “She brought a tremendous amount of passion, commitment and vision.”
As a community advocate, Fernandez acted as chair for the Youth Outreach Committee for the Women’s March in San Jose and has spoken out about Black Lives Matter. She helped create a Black Lives Matter mural downtown and brought youth into her discussion with the mayor about creating banners at City Hall.
“We’ve forged a path for a new future in San Jose,” she said.
Fernandez said she is excited by youth-led community organizations such as HERO Tent and B.L.A.C.K. Outreach, and activists like Raven Malone who are running for school boards.
Fernandez said community members encouraged her to run.
Interested in local politics, Fernandez interned for Peralez in 2017. She also served as a neighborhood commissioner to educate residents about political advocacy.
Fernandez said she is inspired by Jesus Christ, “as the first activist,” Malcolm X for empowering Black people and women “who paved the way for women’s rights and political advocacy” such as Assata Shakur (a member of the Black Liberation Army), Susan B. Anthony (a women’s suffrage advocate) and Dolores Huerta (a civil rights activist).
But she said her mother, Stephanie Owens, is her main inspiration.
“When I came to California with nothing, my mom said, ‘You got this,’ because she knows what it’s like coming from nothing and building everything,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez said her mother suffered abuse as a child and become pregnant at 17. She had Fernandez less than two years later. But after years of hard work, at age 24, Owens moved her family from the projects of Hartford, Conn., to a five-bedroom house in East Hartford, paying $77,000 in cash.
“That was my mom,” Fernandez said. “Against all odds she drops cash on this house. She’s a stone-cold queen and an example of why you can’t make excuses.”
Fernandez graduated from Newbury College in Brookline, Mass., with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications. She said she enjoys writing. Her 10-year-old daughter, Lyric Bryant, follows in her mother’s footsteps. Bryant won an essay contest inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream,” expressing the dreams of today’s youth and the changes she’d like to see in the world.
In addition to standing up for justice and social equity, Fernandez said she wants to empower those who are marginalized to stand up for themselves. As a councilmember she plans to do exactly that.
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]