“What started happening is that [the youth] started changing my heart, and they started making me into a gentler man. I had to be, I had to rise to the gentleness of it all.”
David Escobar wears many different hats in the community. From Indigenous Delegate to the United Nations to the Director of REACH, as well as an activist and a member of the lowrider community, he has become a well-known and respected community leader. David has broken every barrier he has faced to get to where he is today. He has led quite an extraordinary life. David’s story is one marked with struggle and strife, but also filled with resilience, compassion, and success.
David is a Bay Area native who grew up in San Francisco, where he lived and called home most of his life before coming north to Sonoma County. David is an Indigenous Salvadoran, a member of the Lenca-Poton nation which encompasses the eastern region of El Salvador, Honduras, and parts of Nicaragua. His family arrived in the Mission District in the late 1960s and struggled with poverty. As a young child, David remembers helping his parents search for fruits and vegetables in a dumpster at a local farm stand. With his findings, his mother would make their family soup to survive on for the week.
As a young Indigenous man, David went through what he calls “common experiences that many men of color experience in their youth.” Growing up in the city, it was easy to get wrapped up in street culture. For youth, particularly young men of color, the rights of passage into young adulthood in the streets involved getting tattoos, joining a gang or clique, or using drugs and alcohol. He says he still sees this being an issue for young men today.
David also had a tumultuous time in school, struggling in his role as a student. Unfortunately, he was kicked out of his high school for an altercation, much to his mother’s dismay. After urging from his mother, David committed to graduating from high school. He went to an adult night school and soon fulfilled his promise to his mother by graduating.
With his mother’s encouragement, David attended City College of San Francisco. He graduated in 1990 with an Associate's Degree in Criminology. From there he transferred to San Francisco State where he faced many struggles as a first-generation college student. Working all day while take classes at night, and raising a child, it was hard to find a balance between school and work. It was also difficult navigating the logistics of being enrolled in college. David was never told about all the resources to help pay for college, so he paid out of pocket for his education. Eventually, he ran out of money and was forced to leave college. He then was able to finish his Bachelor’s degree on a Cesar Chavez Scholarship at the New College.
David began working with youth as a young adult. In the early 1990s, David was recruited to work as a Gang Intervention Specialist at the Real Alternatives Program (RAP) in San Francisco. David eventually left RAP after being recruited by Bay Area Community Resources as a Drug and Alcohol Counselor in the Marin County Jail, where he started their first ever bilingual-bicultural session. Six years later, he was recruited by the Probation Department and went on to be a part of the Parole Unit, where he served as a parole and probation officer. He was an activist within the department, thinking about ways to engage with those in the system in a way that recognized their humanity. David was approachable and fair and this earned him respect from those he worked with.
David went on to serve as an Administrative Aide to former Fourth District Supervisor Steve Kinsey in Marin County for 15 years. After 21 years of service with the County of Marin, David took an early retirement, but his work wasn't done. He went on to the position of Director of the State mandated Re-entry and Rehabilitation Programs at San Quentin State Prison. Shortly after, David answered the call to work with youth in the community once again as Director of Programs & Operations for the Multicultural Center of Marin, a nonprofit in San Rafael. Concurrently, he was an adjunct professor of Indigenous Studies at Dominican University and Holy Names University.
Although retired early from the County of Marin, David’s passion for the community keeps him working. David is currently the Director of Prevention and Intervention for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma-Marin. While at the Boys and Girls Club, David has transformed the way the program engages with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youth. Every day, David aims to make the interactions with youth transformational rather than transactional, whether it is waking up at 6:00 a.m. to drive to a youths’ house to wake them up and drive them to school to ensure they are showing up, or by simply being a stable figure in their life.
David has also been involved in various community activities and groups. As a member of the Lenca-Poton nation, David has attended the Indigenous Permanent Forum at the United Nations in New York from 2011-2014 as a delegate with the American Indian Movement and on behalf of his maternal grandmother’s Poton community.
Outside of community work, David is also an academic and a writer. Although he struggled with his education in his youth, David earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Humanities from the New College, his Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from Saint Mary’s College, and completed a Certificate in Higher Learning from the Bok Center at Harvard University. Currently, he is completing his dissertation in Indigenous Cosmopolitans at the United Nations Indigenous Permanent Forum. In addition, he has published works in several publications including the Marin County Independent Journal, Nectar Magazine, Point Reyes Light, and Kaiser Permanente’s Latino Association Newsletter. One of his most notable articles is: “Lowriding: Ancestral Healing and Political Resistance.”
Throughout his interview, David stressed the importance of not only being in touch with one’s cultural and ethnic identity, but also the significant and positive role it plays in someone’s sense of belonging and obligation to their community. As a community leader, David believes community engagement is a key component in stunting violence in our communities. David also ties the importance of community to the growth of individuals. Community engagement provides youth the chance to connect to their cultural identity and heritage, as well as the opportunity to become leaders and mentors within their communities.
For David Escobar, his work has always been more than just that; it’s about people, establishing relationships, and building trust. Although retired from his day job, it’s doubtful he will ever retire from his efforts to help better his community.
David Escobar was interviewed by Daniel Chaparro, Community Outreach Specialist, and Madelynn Cox, Community Engagement AmeriCorps VISTA.
To learn more about this story and the work of David Escobar, visit the links below.
Lowriding: Ancestral Healing and Political Resistance
Curriculum Vitae: David Escobar