‘Social justice scholar’: UC Berkeley alumna Sylvia Bracamonte dies at 33

Cindy Gonzalez/Courtesy

Described as having an energetic nature and as a “social justice warrior” for her Latinx community, UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare alumna Sylvia Bracamonte died at age 33 on March 20.

Bracamonte’s senior thesis supervisor and professor of social welfare Kurt Organista remembers Bracamonte as having a big smile and cheerful laugh. Organista said in an email that Bracamonte taught him about redemption and validated his role as a Chicano professor.

“(Bracamonte will be remembered) for her blazing intelligence while managing to become exactly who she was……a triumphant Chicanx who loved her culture and education and fused them to achieve a career in which she knew she could work effectively with youth coming from a similar background and set of challenges,” Organista said in the email.

After being involved in gangs and with drugs, Bracamonte dropped out of high school at age 16 and lived a “dangerous” lifestyle for the next eight years, according to her graduation speech from Santa Rosa Junior College. Her realization that she needed to change her life came after having her son, and Bracamonte enrolled at Santa Rosa Junior College in 2010, later graduating as the first Latina valedictorian of the college.

Bracamonte graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in ethnic studies and social welfare, continuing on to complete the Master of Social Welfare, or MSW, program in spring 2019, according to School of Social Welfare spokesperson Jennifer Monahan.

“I remember that first year she had an awakening of her culture and identity and that’s when she was developing into a social justice scholar,” said Cindy Gonzalez, Bracamonte’s friend and campus alumna. “She just wanted justice for the disenfranchised communities.”

With a desire to give back to her community, Bracamonte returned to Santa Rosa after graduating from UC Berkeley and worked as a sanctuary house coordinator at Community Support Network, Gonzalez said.

Bracamonte was very dedicated to her social justice work for youth facing mental health challenges and to her children, who Gonzalez said “were her life.”

Amid the COVID-19, or the new coronavirus, pandemic and shelter-in-place order, the School of Social Welfare is compiling a video to honor Bracamonte and is discussing additional remote ways to remember her, Monahan said in an email. Members of Bracamonte’s MSW graduating class organized a memorial on the teleconference platform Zoom last week, and faculty and staff are also organizing a community remembrance event on Zoom.

“I want to thank everyone who knew Sylvia for the love, concern and support,” said Stormie Jimenez, Bracamonte’s mother. “Because of all this support and love I have been receiving, it’s given me the strength to fight for Sylvia.”

Contact Maxine Mouly at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @moulymaxine.