Group is holding monthly Chalk and Talk events in Downtown City Park
PASO ROBLES — Paso People’s Action wants to give everyone a safe place to speak.
The grassroots group of locals based in Paso Robles was formed in late-June by Yessenia Echevarria and Carmen Bouquin. They have held informational Chalk and Talk events monthly in the Downtown City Park and recently had a voter registration rally at Sherwood Park in Paso Robles.
“We allow space for community members to speak,” said Paso Robles native Echevarria during a phone interview with The Paso Robles Press. “We just need to hear a diversity of opinions. A Paso Robles where everyone feels welcome. It needs to be everyone.”
Chalk and Talk is just what it sounds like. A “fun” way for people of all ages and backgrounds to use chalk to express themselves on the sidewalk in front of the City Park’s gazebo. The casual gathering also includes a speaker or two or three.
There were close to 75 people wearing face coverings at the September Chalk and Talk. One speaker reflected on the tragic events of Sept. 11 and how, in the days and months following, the nation united. Another speaker related some of the negative experiences of being Hispanic and growing up on the Central Coast.
Chalk and Talk is held the second Friday of the month at 6 p.m. in the City Park. Hispanic Heritage Month will be the theme on Oct. 9.
Echevarria said the response to their events has been good.
“We are getting whole families coming out,” she said. “We are seeing diversity. We are having a huge impact. I think people are curious. I encourage anyone to show up to one of our Chalk and Talks and see what we are about.”
Speakers can be wildcards for PPA.
“We give an invite for them to share their opinions, but it doesn’t mean we (PPA) necessarily stand behind them,” Echevarria said, adding that “having an honest conversation” is key to finding out how everyone “can do better” and “make it better.”
PPA does not believe in the use of violence or intimidation as a means to convey a message. They believe in educating and bringing people together.
The group was formed in the wake of rallies and protests held on the Central Coast following the death of George Floyd.
On May 25, Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minn., while being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Floyd died after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by an officer’s knee in an episode captured on video and sparked worldwide protests against police brutality, police racism, and lack of police accountability.
Echevarria said she and others saw and heard too much negativity from all sides during this emotionally charged time in the United States.
“It’s been a very ugly time,” Echevarria said. “We are going through some uncomfortable growing pains right now. There is so much work to be done.”
PPA believes black lives matter, but “we are not anti-police,” Echevarria said. Social justice is important to the group, but it’s just one aspect of a growing list of underserved and underheard people and issues in America and the county.
“LGTBQ, low income, indigenous people of color,” Echevarria said, knowing she was leaving many out. “These people have never been included or had a seat at the table.”
Echevarria has spent her entire life in Paso Robles. She is a graduate of Paso Robles High School. She knows what it means to be a Bearcat. She’s a staunch and passionate advocate for the Hispanic community, especially women.
“I do it because I love this community and country,” she said.
PPA is involved with the diversity council started by Paso Robles Mayor Steven Martin. They want people to get involved and be heard.
Echevarria said PPA’s work has only just begun.
“All of this work can’t be done alone,” she said. “We are not going to change the world, but we can probably change Paso Robles. We need to find a better way. We need to heal.”
For more information, visit Paso People’s Action on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pasopeoplesaction.