Youth rally in front of the LAUSD offices. Photo courtesy of WELA YMCA Youth Institute.
The Rally for Justice featured an original music video for the song “Lights On,” produced by Grammy-winning artist Quetzal and written in conjunction with Boyle Heights residents, to get the attention of district board members.
David Valdez, director of youth development at Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA, helped organize the event designed to help sway board members to develop a more equitable distribution system of school funds.
“We’re fighting for specific funding,” said Valdez. “The eastside has suffered inequity since the ‘60s. We’re trying to be preemptive – to open a dialogue with the board.”
The district board will vote on the allocation of an additional $700 million in funding this June from the state funding formula that community members want designated to low-income students.
At the core of the issues were the funding of vital services such as mental health facilities on campus along with wellness centers, and to promote restorative justice in place of suspension as a form of school discipline. “Minorities are suspended at a much higher rate than any other group in the LAUSD,” said Valdez.
He also said that because of the challenged backgrounds faced by eastside residents such as growing up in a low-income area, crime and immigrant status, students would benefit greatly from mental health and wellness centers on school campuses.
The event was organized by the Building Healthy Communities – Boyle Heights initiative, the Weingart East L.A. YMCA, and the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, and was staged by student youth leaders from the community.Roosevelt High School senior Isabel Gutierrez spoke to the crowd or more than 100 students, parents and community members telling personal stories of the difficulties associated with attending a school in a low-income community. “These kids went through a lot,” said Gutierrez.
Gutierrez, who will attend UC Irvine next fall, said that she knows some students who suffer from issues outside the school that need someone to talk to, and that a wellness center could help them. Both Valdez and Gutierrez were pleased by the excitement and unity the crowd displayed, but also were disappointed with the student turnout.
“There was great excitement out there today, but I would give the event only a six or seven on the scale because of the low turnout,” said Valdez.
Fellow Roosevelt senior Kimberly Silva emceed the event and said she felt empowered by the small, but boisterous crowd. “We were all united. I hope this gave them (the district board) a glimpse of what we are all about,” said Silva.
Although each board member was invited to the rally, none attended the event, according to Valdez. “I was disappointed none of the board members came down. They were there though, and they heard us,” said Silva.
Silva, who will attend UCLA next fall, said she played Quetzal’s video twice to ensure the board members heard them.
“The whole point of this was to make a lot of noise,” said Valdez who also liked that the youth leaders took control of the event and were front-and-center.