The Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) was started in 2003 to build a youth-led movement to challenge race, gender and class inequality in Los Angeles County and California’s juvenile justice system. YJC mobilizes youth inside lock-ups, in continuation, probation, under-resourced schools, and on the street. Over the past three years, the YJC has also engaged and empowered leadership in parents. YJC has particularly worked with the parents of incarcerated children, particularly youth who are facing or serving life sentences, and with liberated lifers who were sentenced as youth and young adults and are now home helping other families to organize for change. The YJC is working to transform a system that has allowed the massive lock-up of people of color; widespread police violence, corruption and distrust between police and communities; disregard of youth and communities' Constitutional and human rights; the construction of a school-to-prison pipeline; and the build-up of the world's largest network of prisons and jails. The YJC uses direct action organizing, advocacy, political education and activist art to mobilize youth and their allies – both in the community and within lock-ups – to bring about change.
Jennifer’s story marks the impact of our work:Many say it's not about the school you go to but what you make out of it. This is true to certain extent, but to say that you can succeed in schools surrounded by police and spiked security gates that look like prisons, overcrowded classrooms, torn up books, teachers that aren’t prepared – that’s crazy. I remember when it felt good to be called smart. But then I hit middle school – the place where most people in South L.A. start to hate school. Out of 6 teachers I had in John Adams middle school, one of them believed in me. My history teacher Mr. G. which would always tell us "Don’t believe everything you hear or read; question everything; don’t even believe what I say." Which, if you analyze your environment, you don’t hear too often. You only know what they want you to know. You get rewarded based on how well you can spit back word for word what they just told you. Who are they? I think those who have the money to make these webs, broadcasts, textbooks, newspapers, etc. Money is power. I didn't understand this when I was younger. I was going through that stage of my life of being a rebel, and thinking I knew it all. I tried to grow up fast, and right before I knew it, my childhood was snatched away from me. I would be in the Dean's office every single day. My teachers would give up on me so quick. They couldn't take the challenge of having to sit down and try to make me understand what it was they were trying to teach. It was easier for them to write a referral saying all the bad things about me. No one ever seemed to recognize the struggles and others have to overcome just to get to that classroom – getting enough sleep after staying up late babysitting our brothers and sisters, or working to help pay the family’s bills. Some people were sleeping in cars or on the street and still had to get to school.
Almost all of us had to search the house every morning just to get the money together to get on the bus. Imagine what a free Metro/bus pass (like they have in many other cities) would do to improve school graduation rates in L.A.? I remember the afternoon I got kicked out of my Algebra class, my P.E. teacher walked into the school office where I was sitting. She approached me with a smirk on her face saying, "Girl, you’re gonna end up working in McDonald’s. You'll see." I took a picture in my head of this scene, and just laughed. I knew I was better than this – but a part of me just started to give up on education, and think that I just needed time to have fun and not care about nothing in my surroundings. The more time I was pushed away from school, obviously, the more time I was running the streets. Getting high was my favorite pastime. I forgot where reality ended and my addiction began. I got in more and more trouble with the streets, the police, my family. I wonder a lot if I’d be in college now if my junior high school had believed in me. The massive incarceration in California is not because everybody is messed up in the head and doing crimes all day, every day.
Quick example in my case, it’s a crime – even a felony with prison time -for the possession of drugs. The schools, police and courts don’t know our backgrounds or why we get high to escape our stress. A lot of youth are really trying to stop using, but we’re thrown into jail with people with the same problems in dirty cells that just make you want to use more, in a place where all kinds of drugs are available. How can juvenile halls and prisons cure you of your addiction? We need more rehab centers, shelters for our homeless, programs for our youth, and much more. One thing is for sure, we don’t need to invest any more money in prisons, police officers, and wars. "They got money for wars but can't feed the poor,” was Tupac Shakur’s hit in 1993. His words are still needed in our society. I thank God for the mother He gave me, Sonia Angel. She's been my motivation throughout the good and bad times. I don't think I would've done half of the things I did if I would have understood this years before. My mother and I became closer, as we both realized what we were doing wrong and understood each other. This is important in any type of relationship you can think about. I’m thankful that I went back to school and just graduated high school from the Youth Justice Coalition. I was a student and an organizer at the YJC - which I enjoy and learn from every day. An action we organized to end the school-to-jail track was the “Dignity in Schools LA Car March.” We gathered at Manchester and Broadway, and over 50 cars followed a truck filled with about 30 youth. The screaming and chanting didn’t stop - not one instant. Another event happened outside Jefferson High School when the Mayor presented his budget. I went with about 100 YJC members and there were a lot of other organizations also there from throughout L.A. The YJC was demanding 1% from the law enforcement budget for 50 youth centers at schools and in the community, 25,000 youth jobs and 500 intervention workers in our schools and streets to build unity and reduce violence. I have realized that even though money is power, knowledge is also power. We are the leaders we've been waiting for. LET’S RISE AND MAKE SOME MOVEMENT! And, it won’t be long before democracy takes over.
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