South LA resident defying the odds

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Monica Valencia is in one of the world’s most male dominated industries thousands of miles from home putting her life on the line and yet she’s content, confident, and entirely convinced that her dreams of higher education and success will come true.

Valencia is a South LA native from a divorced family with not a lot of money. In fact, her family was so poor that when Valencia graduated high school going to college was not an option, so she joined the Air Force.

Valencia spent three years in North Dakota learning how to fight against the rain, snow, and imaginary nuclear attacks. Then she put her skills to the test serving in Germany and South Korea. But no matter where she went, she refused to let her gender cap her potential. She was determined to do her job better than anybody else. She has five leadership awards to prove it.

When Valencia returned home to South LA she embarked on a new journey. She first attended Oxnard Community College for two years and then applied to her dream school – USC. Her dream came true. She’s currently a junior at USC who plans to become a professor of sociology.

Although statistics show that more women of color are earning college diplomas than ever before, Valencia still feels she defied the odds. This spring Valencia became the first veteran in the nation to win the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Award. She plans to use the award to study the sociological implications of Mexican immigration into the United States this summer.

Dorsey High students dance into USC

imageListen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

It’s Friday morning at Dorsey High School and second-year math teacher Edward Kusell-Zigelman (better known as Ed KZ) is about to start a class that has nothing to do with adding or subtracting.

“One of my coordinators proposed the idea to me last year to teach any elective I wanted. She said we have this empty space, empty class, what do you wanna teach?” he said.

For KZ, the choice was easy. He’s a member of Break-On 2, the University of Southern California’s premiere salsa performance group. So KZ started a Partner Dance Class at Dorsey last fall and it’s open to students of all shapes and sizes. That is good news for athletes like Jovonte Warren, who says that when his friends hear Jovonte is in dance class “they laugh because I’m freakishly tall and when they come here to see, everybody else is short.”

KZ’s Partner Dance Class makes Dorsey High one of the only schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District to have an organized dance class. But dancing isn’t the only thing the class teaches.

“This class in particular is something special for the kids, not just because it’s the arts but because it’s partner dance,” KZ said. “So what’s really neat and unique about this class and would be at any program at any high school is that they’re really learning how to socialize with each other.”

Whether it is dancing the tango, doing the cha cha, or shuffling to the salsa, KZ emphasizes the importance of social etiquette and mutual respect.

“It’s been pretty cool, I kinda opened up as a person. I used to be kinda like shy and stuff but now, dance… it helps me like be able to walk up to a person and make conversation,” said Shelton Sanders, a senior who says Partner Dance has helped him open up his social life.

“Mr. KZ came in and asked us about the dance team and he said it was with girls so I was like ‘Yeah, this is awesome!’”

Girls aren’t the only attractive aspect of the course. The Dorsey students get to interact with USC students and alumni through a mentorship program set up by KZ, a USC graduate of 2010. The High Schoolers recently visited USC to perform in USC’s Break-On 2 salsa club. Armand Jordan said the experience helped get him excited about attending college this fall.

“Through this program I was able to go to USC for one of the first times and meet some of the college students and listen to some of their experiences,” Jordan said. “It’s definitely made me want to go to college.”

Almost all of the Partner Dance students are college bound and we’re not talking about your average two-year community college. Many Partner Dance students are headed to prestigious universities such as UCLA, USC, and Stanford.

But KZ’s mentorship program doesn’t just benefit the students of partner dance.

Erika Soto graduated USC in 2011 and she mentors the Partner Dance students every week at Dorsey High School.

“Every student has a USC college mentor and we basically write to each other back and forth,” Soto said. “I feel like we’re making a really great impact on their lives. We’re really influencing them in a positive way and it also reminds me of who I’m trying to be and keeps me motivated to stay in a positive path and move forward in a positive direction.”

The Partner Dance class will return to USC this spring for another performance, this time at Bovard Auditorium for the Break-On 2 Showcase April 19th.

Two rallies, one message: students and Angelinos call for justice for Trayvon Martin

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image“It’s been 32 days since neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman claims he acted in self defense. But USC student Matthew Gray doesn’t buy Zimmerman’s argument.

“Just self defense is just not going to fly with me,” said Gray. “Because he’s at least 100 pounds heavier than Trayvon. Through different people who have seen the incident, he attacked Trayvon verses Travyon attacking him so it all just doesn’t add up.”

According to the Sanford Police Report, Zimmerman claims Martin looked suspicious wearing a hoodie in the rain inside a gated community. Police say Martin was unarmed and was only carrying a packet of skittles and an ice tea. BUT Zimmerman chose follow him and an altercation ensued.

Eddie Jones Jr., the President of the Los Angeles Civil Rights Association, led a protest today in Crenshaw.

“How dare Zimmerman have the audacity take a loaded 9 millimeter weapon,” said Jones. “ That’s a premeditated conspiracy to commit murder on a young person that was completely innocent.”

But according to some eyewitness accounts and a police investigation, Zimmerman may not have killed Martin in cold blood. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the police reports say Martin punched Zimmerman in the face and then slammed Zimmerman’s head against the sidewalk.

However, the Orlando Sentinel released a video from a security camera that shows police escorting a handcuffed Zimmerman into an interrogation room the night after the killing. Zimmerman has no visible head injuries.

Rachel Zolensky is the president of a brand new USC club called the Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere (AWARE). She says Travyon’s case is a manifestation of American institutional racism.

“You know this isn’t the first case where something like this has happened. There’s a history in the United States of Black Life not being valued the same as White life.”

USC students will gathered on campus on Thursday night for a candlelight vigil in Trayvon’s honor.

Pet overpopulation in South LA raises questions about animal safety

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By Conrad Wilton

imageSouth Los Angeles resident Dina Cabrera feeds salmon to stray cats that wander into her backyard. But don’t worry; she caters to all animals.

“I have 3 dogs, 7 cats, 2 parrots, one cockatiel, 20 finches, 3 squirrels, and I’m not counting all the wild doves and finches I feed every day,” said Cabrera, who is often considered the “Snow White” of her community.

Cabrera manages to provide food, medical care, and love to all of her pets, but she still finds a way to work fulltime as a legal secretary and raise her three-year-old daughter Sophie, who, like her mother, loves the animals around her.

After asking Sophie, who her favorite pet was, she responded with “Mimi,” a 16 year old Chihuahua and holds two records – one for the oldest animal in the Cabrera household, and the other for the animal bringing in the highest vet bills.

“Sometimes it’s hard because there are so many and the bills can get pretty high,” Cabrera said.

imageCabrera has opened her home to stray animals to combat the rising rate of pet overpopulation in the city of Los Angeles. LA County Animal Control Officer C. Green has been rounding up stray animals in South LA for over 13 years. He says pet overpopulation is out of control because many pet owners fail to spay and neuter their animals.

“Some people just don’t come in even if we spay and neuter for free,” Green said.

The Los Angeles City Council passed a law in 2008 that requires all pet owners to spay and neuter their animals. Although many people simply ignore the mandate, Green says it is enforceable. But Cabrera says regardless of the law, there are some South LA pet owners who will never spay or neuter their animals because of a negative cultural stigma.

“The Hispanics I’ve encountered, being Hispanic myself, don’t want to spay or neuter their animals because they thing it’s cruel,” said Cabrera, “and I always tell them it’s the first thing that needs to be done.”

But spaying and neutering operations are only part of the solution.

imageIn the city of Los Angeles, pet owners are only legally allowed to house three animals. But according to Green, many South LA residents have several dogs to combat crime.

“If you’re going to kind of rough neighborhoods, you’ll see people with 4, 5, 6 dogs. And that’s where the problem comes in at.”

So what’s the solution? “I think people need to become more educated about animals,” answered Cabrera.

According to Green, many animal shelters and volunteer agencies are currently boosting their efforts to educate Los Angeles pet-owners about pet care and overpopulation.

As of now there is no government legislation on the table to curb pet-overpopulation in South LA, but animal lovers like Cabrera believe this is a top priority.

Sound portrait of a classic

By Conrad Wilton

Car preservationist (yes! there is such a thing) Eric Johansen works in South Los Angeles. In this sound portrait, he tells reporter Conrad Wilton why driving to work in his 1960 Corvette convertible isn’t so bad.