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The New York Times has joined forces with the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism to provide expanded coverage on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting California.

Led by the IRP, more than 80 students and nearly 20 journalism instructors organized to report on the impact of the novel coronavirus in each of California’s 58 counties. They gathered data, helped correspondents and produced stories — including this story, which ran in the Times on July 27, 2020. (Photo of Julian Balderama, right, a “Neighborhood Change Associate,” dropping off bags of food and masks in May. Credit: Wesaam Al-Badry)

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Julian Balderama’s daily mission, stated starkly, is to keep a dozen boys and young men in Stockton alive and out of jail.

His official job title is “Neighborhood Change Associate” for a violence-prevention program called Advance Peace. But on the streets, Mr. Balderama is what is known as an “interrupter” — he defuses conflict. Through constant home visits, sometimes bearing takeout meals, he shows his 12 mentees how to steer clear of crime and violence, and nudges them toward schools and jobs. “These guys,” he said, “have been let down so many times in their lives.”

Mr. Balderama works with boys as young as 15 and men as old as 40, all of them either Black or Latino. At the start of the year, his biggest worry was how to keep his mentees out of the gunfire that erupts with terrifying frequency in Stockton, his hometown. But with the pandemic, and then the eruption of protests in response to the killing of George Floyd, Mr. Balderama’s work has become all the more challenging.

Now his daily rounds include offering advice on how to avoid catching the coronavirus, while also navigating how he, as a Mexican-American, can approach the complex subject of police brutality with his Black mentees.

“When the looting and rioting was happening, I did not tell them to not do that,” Mr. Balderama said. “How could I? The anger and the frustration and the ‘I’ve had enough.’ I could push somebody away like that.”

“I just said: ‘Listen, we both know what’s going on. I’m not going to tell you what to do and what not to do. But the decisions you make, you make sure they’re based on what you’re passionate about. If you’re going to do something, make sure you understand there’s consequences to your actions.’”

The multiplying risks underscore how in low-income places like Stockton, Covid-19 and the issue of police brutality have intertwined with the existing problems of gun violence and unemployment to create fresh ways of ensnaring young Black and Latino men.

Standing against these threats in Stockton are a handful of “interrupters” like Mr. Balderama and a few modestly funded city and county social service programs.

 
 

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