The word “REBEL” scrawled in bright green and
fire-engine red adorns the T-shirts for sale in the Native Graphix clothing line. It’s a word that organizers hope
inspires the kids to believe they can make money away from the street and through social enterprises like this
San Francisco shop.

The silk screening company is a program of H.O.M.E.Y (Homies Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth), a nonprofit in the city’s Mission District, historically a home to the Latino community. The organization’s staff trains Latino teens about the impact of messages through art and design, and then teaches them computer design software, airbrush, silk-screen and stencil. H.O.M.E.Y has worked with about 60 teens since 2006, and each year, two teens are chosen to work on the Native Graphix enterprise.

Their small clothing line is currently available only at their office location. It features socially conscience and
cultural art mixed with empowering and positive messages on T-shirts, hats and posters. Custom orders, which make up the bulk of the business, can be placed online
(at homeysf.org). In 2007, the group was able to break even at about $120,000 in revenue. The money paid for three full-time staff, rent and overhead. Staff member Florencia Garcia said the group wants to expand the enterprise to Hollywood. Native Graphix recently completed all the graphic design work, including 5,000 T-shirts, for the upcoming Peter and Benjamin Bratt movie, Mission Street Rhapsody.

“We don’t offer sweatshop prices for orders,” Garcia said. “The number-one reason people come to us is that they know they are supporting our programs. We get orders from Wisconsin to New York.”

H.O.M.E.Y took root as a nonprofit run by community organizers and former gang members in 1999 with the mission to prevent violence and promote lifestyles away from the street through five core programs. While all the programs are notable, Native Graphix stands out by pushing the message of the community’s self-determination. 

“Although I feel voting is especially important, it is only one way of many to create change,” said Gustavo Lopez, the organization’s education coordinator. “If you want something, you have to fight for it yourself. We have to spread the message that the community needs to be motivated to take charge of their lives.”

Lopez said that as a poor Bay Area youth, he found more doors of opportunity closed rather than open. That’s why, he said, at 14 years old, he couldn’t get around becoming an activist and community organizer. “I couldn’t sit back and let things continue as they are for our people.”

“We set up a website, got some returning customers and developed the businesses…we all learned this coming from the streets. None of us went to Harvard or Yale,” said Garcia. “We are all self-taught and are getting better and better.”

Read this online at http://colorlines.com/archives/2009/01/native_graphics.html


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