West Adams church fire aftermath

Firefighters follow up at the Church fire.

Firefighters follow up at the Church fire.

Burnt fragments of wood and stained glass are all that remain after the fire destroyed Crouch Memorial Church of God in Christ in West Adams. Today, construction workers sawed off what was left of the roofless structure. The Los Angeles Fire Department continued its evaluation of Tuesday’s fire that injured three firefighters. Chief Flegal of the Battalion 1 unit revisited the scene today.

To hear observations from Flegal and other onlookers, listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

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Dorsey High celebrates new building


Hundreds of students, teachers, and parents cheered today as Dorsey High School unveiled the first renovation in more than half a century.

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Lynwood School District Hosts Music Appreciation Workshop

South LA teens code their way to success by learning technology basics

Oscar Menjivar

Oscar Menjivar is the founder of URBAN TxT

Three years ago,  Oscar Menjivar, 35, a former technology consultant, was working for the  Los Angeles Unified School district (LAUSD) to integrate technology into classrooms when he noticed an upsetting trend.

After visiting an 8th grade classroom, he saw that a teacher had posted grades for a recent paper. Out of 16 papers, only two received a C and they belonged to male students.

“I went to the detention rooms and 90-95 percent of the kids there were young men,” Menjivar said.

Disturbed by this discovery, Menjivar researched dropout and incarceration rates. He found statistics to validate his observations — male students were falling behind.

According to the Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives, boys receive 70 percent of D and F grades. Sixty percent of high school dropouts are males.

In response, Menjivar founded URBAN TxT, a nonprofit organization to help male teens from South Los Angeles develop leadership and technology skills.

He employs a team of five to staff a 15-week summer academy where the boys learn computer programming and web development. Students are divided into teams where they compete against each other to create a website by the end of the summer. [Read more…]

OPINION: Mad science or school-to-prison? Criminalizing black girls

High stakes test question: A female science student conducts an experiment with chemicals that explodes in a classroom, but it causes no damage and no injuries. Who gets to be the adventurous, teenage genius, mad scientist and who gets to be the criminal led away in handcuffs facing two felonies to juvenile hall?

If you’re a white girl check box A. If you’re an intellectually curious black girl with good grades check box B.

When 16 year-old Kiera Wilmot was arrested and expelled from Bartow High School in Florida for a science experiment gone awry, it exemplified a long American-as-apple-pie tradition of criminalizing black girls.

In many American classrooms, black children are treated like ticking time bomb savages, shoved into special education classes, disproportionately suspended and expelled, then warehoused in opportunity schools, juvenile jails and adult prisons.   [Read more…]

24th Street Elementary parents vote for reform

24th Street Elementary parents voting on reform

Parents at 24th Street Elementary voting on a proposal to reform the school under the California Parent Trigger Act.

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News

Amabili Villeda says her eight-year-old son goes to an elementary school with unclean facilities, one of the highest rates of suspension, and a difficult principal.

“She didn’t communicate with the parents,”said Villeda. “Even the teachers complained that they couldn’t communicate with her, and parents started take their children out of the school.”

Over the course of a year, the enrollment rate at 24th St. in South LA dropped from 1,000 students to 600. Some parents were discouraged, but Villeda saw this as a reason to get motivated. [Read more…]

South L.A. teenager finds home in poetry

On a chilly night in South L.A., over a hundred young people have packed into a small theatre for an open-mic poetry reading.

Kenzie Givens

Kenzie Givens, poet, and high school student.

Seventeen-year-old Kenzie Givens is an African American poet and tonight is her first time performing at the venue.

On stage, Givens looks tough. She’s dressed in a leather jacket, mini-skirt and combat boots and her hair is done up in dreads.

Despite her apparent confidence, Givens doesn’t always fit in with her peers. She writes poetry because she often can’t connect with students her age.

“When I’m at school, I’m usually pretty shy,” said Givens. “I have this little place where I sit off. It’s actually behind this little shrubbery thing, and that’s usually where I go and eat my lunch. If people are around me my head tends to be in a book.”

Givens lives in Baldwin Hills, but doesn’t go to school in the predominately African American neighborhood, which features signs reading “Black Owned” and “Support the Hood.”

In the third grade, her parents, Darren and Caroline, chose to send her to charter schools in mostly white, wealthy neighborhoods.

“As one of the only African American students, I definitely felt like an outsider. I tried to make friends with people and tried to ingratiate myself into different groups and stuff, but I found out that in order to do that I’d have to be someone that I was not, and that didn’t appeal to me. So I just kind of decided to be stubborn, and stick it out alone,” she said.

Her father felt it was important to raise his children close to their family roots.

“It was important for them to be in an environment where one, they would be safe, but they’d be around their own people as well, able to go outside and play, drive around, participate in the neighborhood, go to their own stores, and different things,” said Darren.

Kenzie Givens (right) and her father.

Kenzie Givens (right) and her father.

Givens’ mother is a teacher in South Central, and admits that it was important to send Kenzie to a school that would prepare her for university, even though it was difficult to send her away.

“I would have liked her to have more African American friends, which I think she doesn’t have as many. Does she have any? I don’t think she has any African American friends,” said Caroline.

“I’m certain there’s someone at my school that I could have really great conversations with but I’m so focused on my books and exploring topics on my own, I never get to talk about it with anyone. Like, I’ve never had a boyfriend, or maybe my boyfriend is a book, I’m not sure,” said Givens.

While the final days of high school tick away, Givens has found a way to connect with other poets.

Recently, she started a poetry club at her high school. It isn’t popular, but the members are dedicated to their craft.

During a drizzly lunch period, four teenagers assembled in a classroom to read their poems. There were no notebooks or scribbled-in journals.

The students wrote and read their poems off their cell phones – their fingers scrolling over the words.

Poetry club members, Edwin, Sophie and Daniel, all agreed that poetry was misunderstood at their school.

“When you tell people you’re a poet, they think you’re all sad and depressed, when it really isn’t like that,” said Daniel.

For Givens, poetry is important.

“I write what feels most real at any moment. It can be any experience that is so moving that it demands to be written down. I think my biggest fear is probably a very common one, and that is of disappearing entirely. I‘d like to know that I mattered,” she said.

On the night of her first reading, Givens’ nervousness melted away. She appeared grounded and confident about her future.

Next year, she is heading to Reed College in Portland, where she secured an early admission and a scholarship. She is certain that the open environment at Reed will be accepting of her poetry and her identity.

Meanwhile, in the crowded South L.A. theatre full of poets and performing artists, she’s no outsider. As she reads her poem, the crowd snaps and applauds – expressing their approval.

On stage, Kenzie Givens is at home.

Listen to an audio version from Annenberg Radio News

LA for Youth holds concert at City Hall

On April Fool’s Day, the L.A. for Youth campaign gathered for a concert outside of City Hall to make a statement about what they call “foolish” safety policies in schools in Los Angeles. image

Performances included dancers, bands, musicians, and spoken word artists.

They hope to end violence in schools. However, they want to offer more positive solutions other than just sending police officers into schools.

“What we need to start doing is look into all these alternatives to incarceration and all these alternatives to school discipline, getting rid of zero tolerance policies and willful defiance and other terms that are aimed at criminalizing youth,” said Julio Marquez, L.A. for Youth representative.

The event hoped to show a more positive portrayal of school and community, one without guns and violence.

According to the LA Times, The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has hired 750 security aides since the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in December.

No one from LAUSD was available to comment.

Henry Sandoval, an LA For Youth campaign member shared his own story of the public school system. 

For years he was pushed out of school and onto the streets. His school finalized him three times, meaning he automatically failed all his classes. image

“It came to a point where all my friends got finalized and kicked out to the streets,” Sandoval said. “We saw it as something really cool. We saw it as an early vacation.”

Now at age 21, his perspective has changed. He finally got off the streets and graduated.

Then just four months ago, a gunman with no apparent motive shot Sandoval in the chest. He says he harbors no harsh feelings towards his attacker.

“Everybody needs help, and the people who need the most help are getting pushed out and getting kicked out into the streets,” he said.

Jasmine Jauregui, youth organizer for LA for Youth, also shared her story.

Her father is serving time in prison and she wants to make sure that others don’t end up there as well. For her, the event meant a call for action.

“I want young people to get involved and wake up to the reality. We need to fix what’s not right,” she said.

LA for Youth’s larger goal is to raise enough money to open 500 community centers throughout Los Angeles.

“Community answers and community resources are the end to this violence,” Sandoval said.

Local non-profit battles infant mortality rate

With National Minority Health Month quickly approaching, a local organization confronts the Black infant mortality rate—a decades old problem—by empowering one college-educated woman at a time. Click here to read more.

OPINION: School-to-prison and white post-racial privilege

By Sikivu Hutchinson
Community Contributor

“If you’ve seen a black or Latino person portrayed as a criminal on TV within the past twenty-four hours, stand up. If you’ve seen a black or Latino person portrayed as a professional on TV recently, stand up.” These were the two powerful icebreaker questions my students asked the audience in a room packed with 9 – 12th graders during a recent Youth of Color college panel at Washington Prep High School in South Los Angeles.

imageRacial playing field is unlevel for college students of color, according to Hutchinson.

Virtually everyone in the room stood up for the first question. Six people stood up for the second. One student wanted clarification on what a professional was.

According to the Education Trust-West, only “20 percent of African-American ninth-graders who graduate from high school four years later do so having completed the A-G coursework needed for admission to the University of California or California State University.”

The report estimates that “if current trends continue” only one in twenty black students in Los Angeles County will go on to a four year college or university. Massive sequestration-generated cuts to early childhood education, and K-16 will only deepen these disparities.

At the college panel, young African-American and Latino first-generation graduates of Princeton, UCLA, UC San Diego and the California Institute of the Arts spoke candidly about the high-stakes climate students of color face in higher education.

A decade of racist anti-affirmative action propaganda has sanitized public discussions about racial politics in higher ed. Indeed, many education activists predict that the ultra-conservatives on the Supreme Court will strike down affirmative action policy in a landmark case involving the University of Texas. But, for many student activists, pretending like the racial playing field is level, and that white college students face the same conditions as students of color, is no longer an option. Skyrocketing unemployment amongst African-American college graduates has permanently stymied upward mobility for many working class blacks struggling to “make it” into the middle class.

According to a 2005 Princeton University study, even white, former felons got offered jobs at slightly greater rates than black job applicants with no criminal records.* The cultural presumption of white innocence, despite a criminal past, coupled with the stereotype of black incompetence/untrustworthiness, is still deep and intractable.

During the forum, Princeton University graduate and community organizer Brandon Bell talked about the assumption some white biochemistry instructors had that he wouldn’t be able to cut the rigorous coursework. Coming from the highly-regarded King Drew Medical Magnet in Compton, he was saddled with the perception of being an affirmative action admission, while his white legacy peers skated by with their meritocratic silver spoons in their mouths.

Undocumented youth activist Edna Monroy spoke of being one of only three Latinas in her graduating class to go to UCLA. California’s draconian Proposition 209 prohibited affirmative action at public colleges and universities and dramatically reduced black and Latino admissions to elite UC’s. Even though she had been a straight-A student in high school, Monroy struggled during her first year at UCLA because she hadn’t had college caliber coursework before.

Graduate student Diane Arellano spoke of being viewed as less than competent because she was the only Latina in the photography department at prestigious Cal Arts – where high profile disciplines like directing and animation, fount of the Pixar empire, were almost exclusively white male.

Bell and Monroy’s experiences highlight the institutional challenges that often prevent students of color from even getting to college – i.e., inadequate preparation at the middle and high school level, overcrowded classrooms, low caliber teachers and racist/sexist stereotypes that translate into low academic expectations.

The Ed Trust report criticizes racially disparate suspension policies that disproportionately “pipeline” black students to juvenile detention. Coupled with federal policy such as the Obama administration’s Race to the Top “accountability” initiative that mandates high stakes tests and relentlessly promotes charter schools, the over-suspension of black students is a national travesty.

Following a national trend, billionaire outsiders like Michael Bloomberg, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Broad Foundation have poured millions into Los Angeles charter schools.

Charter privatization is a major driver of school re-segregation. Charter re-segregation buttresses disparities in home buying, home ownership and employment amongst African-Americans of all class backgrounds.

A recent Brandeis University report concluded that the wealth gap between blacks and whites has increased dramatically from 1984 to 2009. White wealth derives from greater home equity, investments and inheritances from family. By contrast, the bulk of Black and Latino wealth comes from one place – home ownership. Because whites of all classes live in higher income neighborhoods than do African-Americans, and have benefited from lower interest rates, longer term home ownership, greater access to social amenities, living wage job centers and better-resourced schools, white privilege continues to be the engine for white upward mobility.

But there is no federal policy that specifically addresses these disparities.

The Obama administration’s “colorblind” remedies for the mortgage meltdown have been piecemeal, fragmented and grossly inadequate for the economic crisis of communities of color. Even as President Obama forges ahead with a more “liberal” second-term agenda, the administration’s robber baron race-to-the-bottom corporate education policy and its indifference to the scourge of mass incarceration underscores the lie of the American dream.

It means that students like Bell, Monroy and Arellano know that they will have to work ten times as hard as their white counterparts who can still bank on earning a nice wage of whiteness in a “post-racial” age.

*The study was based on testers, some posing as ex-offenders, applying to nearly 1,500 job openings in New York City and concluded that “black job seekers fare no better than whites just released from prison.”

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels, due out on March 30.