Only after encouragement from Mr. Balderama did that begin to change. Mr. Zuniga also took a job in the local grape fields and saw all the workers wearing masks. And it really sank in after a close family member fell sick.
Before leaving Mr. Zuniga’s house to continue his rounds, Mr. Balderama reminded him he may hear President Trump is trying to roll back shelter-in-place orders. Even if that happens, he warned, you need to stay inside as much as possible. This virus is real, he repeated. All day, he ended every visit with that same message.
Another of Mr. Balderama’s mentees, a man who goes by the name Curly, believed the virus was a lie. “We thought it was people just getting colds,” he said. “I thought it was all fake.” Part of the reason he didn’t believe it, he said, was because he didn’t know anyone who was sick. Mr. Balderama urged him to take the virus seriously. Curly listened, all the more so after his girlfriend’s grandmother died from it.
Mr. Balderama said that although he avoided street protests in the past, and never would have encouraged his mentees to participate, he admits that his experience working in Advance Peace has changed him. “I was never really as passionate and emotionally affected by the way the African-American community was treated,” he said. “But a lot of people I met through this work — all these people who have affected my life in a positive way — they are Black people.”
In recent weeks Mr. Balderama has attended protests over the killing of Mr. Floyd, as have some of his mentees, although not with him. And while he advises his mentees, as always, to stay out of trouble, he also understands how vital this moment is to them. “I don’t believe any non-Black person should tell a Black person what to do in this time,” he said. “I don’t want to tell them don’t go out there, because maybe that’s all they have left.”