UPDATE Jan. 15, 2015: The Fresno City Council today renamed the community center building at Dickey Park the “Alphonso Hernandez Jr. Youth and Community Center at Dickey Park.”
Fresno State alumnus Alfonso Hernandez, a student activist in the 1970s who battled local high school dropout and gang problems in an effort to “attack the cancer that was destroying the minds of our youth,” died in Fresno Tuesday. He was 64.
Through student organizations at Fresno State, Hernandez founded the Chicano Youth Center in Fresno. For the past three decades the center has helped countless Latino students organize for civil rights issues in the education system and social justice.
As a recreational specialist with the City of Fresno’s Parks and Recreation Department, Mr. Hernandez dedicated 40 years of his life assisting low income, high risk youth and their families.
At 1 p.m. Friday, representatives of the center and two community organizations — the Housing Alliance of Fresno and El Concilio de Fresno – will honor him at a press conference at the Chicano Youth Center (1515 Divisadero St.).
The Fresno native who attended Central Union High School and Fresno City College, is a 1973 graduate of Fresno State in social welfare. Among his academic interests were dropout issues.
At Fresno State, he was actively involved in two student organizations: Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A.) promoting unity and empowerment of Chicano students through political action; and Trabajadores de La Raza, which encouraged and promoted involvement of social work students in academic, community and social work issues.
In the late 1970’s, Mr. Hernandez addressed the plight of Chicano students who activists contended were being denied educational rights and opportunities in Fresno County elementary, junior high and high schools. He worked closely with students and their families to assert and fight for their educational rights, culminating in at least 24 student walkouts.
“This struggle shined a bright light on Chicano educational issues that were ultimately resolved,” said Eddie Varela, president of El Concilio. “A key goal achieved was the establishment of campus youth organizations to channel youthful energy and anger into meaningful campus and student life.”
Mr. Hernandez was instrumental in encouraging and inspiring junior high and high school students to establish M.E.Ch.A. organizations on their campuses, resulting in the establishment of more than 50 student clubs on school campuses, many of which continue today.
He held one of the first forums in Fresno to address the city’s growing gang problem and was known to take to the streets after dark to persuade gang members to opt for other lifestyles.
In 1975, Mr. Hernandez founded the Chicano Youth Center (CYC) that actively worked with Hispanic youth gangs and provided the youth with an opportunity to participate in organized sports activities and other services. It was first located in a home in southeast Fresno, then later at Dickey Playground near downtown.
“This was a creative and innovative approach that served as a tool promoting social interaction, social skills development, leadership development, and an emphasis on school dropout prevention,” said Varela, who worked at Fresno State for 32 years until he retired in 2007. Varela continues his work with Fresno State through the California Latino Network Leadership Network partnership with President Joseph I. Castro.
In 1993, Mr. Hernandez was honored by the Temple Beth Israel congregation with its Social Action Award.
Varela said Mr. Hernandez’s efforts forged a strong partnership with Parks and Recreation that in 2008 led to a new comprehensive youth development center structure a block west of Dickey Playground.
“The new CYC facility is a crowning achievement and tribute to Alfonso’s legacy,” Varela said. “His dedicated community service shines as a bright beacon calling on us to continue his outstanding work. Alfonso’s spirit of activism and advocacy lives within each of us and we must continue that work with at risk youth.”
At a Chicano History Revisited event held in August to commemorate the anniversary of the Chicano movement, Mr. Hernandez was acknowledged for his service but he credited volunteers and many professionals in the community.
He said, “I did my job to attack the cancer that was destroying the minds of our youth and staff. Volunteers and many professionals assisted by giving of their time. Through it all, we became a rainbow of hope for our youth. Que vivan los estudiantes who provided their leadership in standing up for their rights.”
Services for Mr. Hernandez will be held Jan. 15 with a viewing at 10 a.m. at Lisle Funeral Home in Fresno (1605 L St.) followed by Recitation of the Holy Rosary at 7 p.m. A Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 16 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Fresno (816 Pottle Avenue).
For more information, contact Varela at 559.360.9797.