1st City EMT class graduates, SF program for youth of color creating upward mobility, careers

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- After four months of training, the inaugural class of the City EMT pilot program graduated.

The first class started with 15 students and 13 completed the intensive training program, preparing youth of color for careers in the paramedic or fire service.

"We just want them to know you can do it. Let us show you how you can do it. Let us help you and provide the curriculum for you to get to that step," said Attic Bowden, who founded the program.

Bowden, a chief in the fire prevention division of the San Francisco Fire Department, launched the nonprofit with the goal of providing Black, Latinx, and Asian-Pacific Islander young adults from underserved parts of San Francisco with hands on training and a life changing pathway to a stable, well-paying career.

"It's been a journey," said Mikel Gregory, one of the graduates.

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Gregory was born and raised in the city's Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhoods.

The pilot program launched earlier this year and is funded through San Francisco's Office of Workforce Development Opportunities For All Initiative.

The initiative is one of Mayor London Breed's signature programs for youth in the city ages 13 to 24.

"I wanted to make sure we had a program where kids could not only have experiences and learn about incredible opportunities, but that money was not a barrier to their success," said Mayor Breed.

Not only was the training free, each student received a $3,000 monthly stipend as a part of a guaranteed income pilot program so they wouldn't have to worry about how to make ends meet while studying.

"The stipend kind of made sure I didn't retract back to that whole survival mindset," said Fernando Cervantes, a graduate of the program.

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Cervantes is hoping to use his EMT certification to help him land a job in the fire department.

The Opportunities For All Initiative is also helping young adults from marginalized communities secure hands-on training in the film industry.

"I feel like these opportunities have really humbled me because -- it's crazy being able to see Don Johnson and Cheech just all the time," said Phil Elleston.

The 20-year-old San Francisco native was able to secure an internship on the set of the reboot for the 90s dramedy "Nash Bridges" starting Don Johnson and Cheer Marin as it filmed in the city this spring.

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Elleston worked in the lighting department for the show and also scored an internship working on the "Matrix 4" as it filmed in San Francisco in 2020.

"It was mind-blowing. I'd love to continue to do projects that really resonate with me," he said.

The Office of Workforce Development recently approved $1 million in funding for City EMT to expand the program over the next two years for an additional four cohorts.

The money comes from Mayor Breed's Dream Keeper Initiative which aims to improve outcomes for Black residents in the city.

The initiative is funded with $120 million over the next two years with money divested from the San Francisco Police Department budget.

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Of the $60 million allocated for fiscal year 2020-21, $4.8 million is earmarked for city employment pipelines, $6 million for workforce training and development, and $7 million in guaranteed income.

For young people like Gregory, the initiative is creating a pathway to economic freedom for the next generation.

"I'm going to go and tell the world. I can go tell them my peers, go tell the people who are in Bayview-Hunters Point and show them that yes, you can be Black, you can have the experience of going to public schools and still be able to achieve," said Gregory.

City EMT is modeled after EMS Corp, a similar program across the Bay in Alameda County.

For more information about the City EMT program click here. And for information on Opportunities For All, click here.

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