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It’s a question many hope to answer: What needs to change to generate more justice and equity in Boyle Heights?

Answering the call is a group of students from Roosevelt High School who found a voice they never knew existed and shared personal stories about their vision for a better Boyle Heights in a book debuting Tuesday.

“Like A Shadow Blocking My Light: Hopes for A Better Boyle Heights” is the latest published writing project by a partnership between 826LA, a non-profit organization that supports creative and expository writing skills amongst youth, and Los Angeles Unified School District teachers and students.

For two months, 826LA tutors worked with Jorge Lopez and Gene Dean’s sophomore classes at Roosevelt’s School of Communications, New Media and Technology and combined both narrative and persuasive essays to answer not only what needs to change in Boyle Heights, but in the tighter niche that is family.

In an effort to make both classes more aware about how government works and the role they play in changing their community, both Lopez and Dean personalized the task and encouraged students to tackle an issue they have encountered in their own lives.

“Part of this is waking them up to see that things happen in our community because we’re oppressed as an entire group because of class, race, and gender,” said Lopez. “By focusing on what they themselves want to change, we give them the lens to see what’s happening in the community and how to change it.”

Student writers admit they were terrified but excited to be part of such a memorable project””mustering the valor to share personal stories dealing with gang violence and alcoholism, poverty and family loss.

Having experienced a drive-by shooting at the age of 10, Dalia Rodriguez, now 15, recalls that moment her life could’ve changed for the worst.

“I actually saw when the guy pointed a gun at my sister. It was a very shocking experience. It was difficult to share because I don’t know what would’ve happened if he fired the gun, how my life would’ve been now,” remembered Rodriguez.

For Javier Evangelista, 16, taking up a part-time job to help with the heavy responsibility of a family without a father allowed him to find strength in himself and the hope for a better future.

“No matter where you are as long as you keep your head up, you can accomplish whatever you want with or without those people around you,” said Evangelista.

Along the writing process, 16-year-old Beverly Vasquez, learned firsthand the power and beauty of community. Vasquez admits she hated moving to Boyle Heights from Eagle Rock, but soon reconnected with her family’s ties.

“I learned to appreciate new things since coming here. I like how everyone is closer here. The good thing about Boyle Heights is that we help each other and people are willing to listen and help,” Vasquez said.

The collection of stories hopes to draw attention to crucial issues young people face in Boyle Heights, which Dean believes is a collective community responsibility.

“It’s a matter of accountability on everyone’s part. As teachers, a lot of us say, ‘I do my best.’ But that’s not enough; we need to do more. And we need to understand that this isn’t a population of students that do the right thing all the time, they need to be pushed,” said Dean.

Find the book for sale at Libros Schmibros Lending Library and Used Bookstore on Mariachi Plaza, at 826LA’s Time Travel Mart in Echo Park, or at the Time Travel Mart’s online store. Proceeds will go to continuing literacy programs at 826LA.

Authors of “Like a Shadow Blocking My Light” will present their new book to the Boyle Heights community at a free release party Tuesday, June 12 at Libros Schmibros Lending Library and Used bookstore from 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. View Facebook event page here for more details.

See a book sample here.

Nataly Chavez

Nataly Chavez is currently a film student at The Los Angeles Film School and does freelance entertainment writing for Campus Circle. She is has just finished writing her first short script which she will...

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