Photo by Andrew Roman
Photo by Andrew Roman

For one day, students from several Los Angeles area schools came together to show how they could be agents of change against injustices plaguing their communities.

Over 400 participants came out to Eastside Stories: Youth Transformation Across Los Angeles, a conference held last Saturday at Roosevelt High School. Some presented workshops on immigration, the school-to-prison pipeline and access to quality education; some performed spoken word, and others left inspired after witnessing what their peers had been a part of during the year.

Josh Mejia, a junior at Mendez Learning Center attended the conference unaware of several issues surrounding his community. Mejia was especially moved when learning about the white-washing of murals in Boyle Heights and never realized that they were visual representations of his peoples’ culture and history. This presentation, he says,“is changing me and my perspective and the way I see things.”

Although Mejia is already a member of Pueblo del Sol Boys & Girls Club, his peers motivated him to find other organizations where he can become a youth activist in his community.

For some students, this was the first time they were able to explore these types of issues, but given the room to do so, they excelled, said Mariana Ramirez, a history teacher at Roosevelt’s Magnet Academy. “I learned so much from my students. All the research they conducted on immigration and gender rights”¦ it was just beautiful to see that it happens the other way around.”

Part of the goal for Pedagogy & Politics Collective, the group of teachers and student leaders that organized the event, was to bring awareness and encourage students and community members to take action. They believed the easiest and most effective way to teach and influence other youth in the community to become involved would be through the youth voice itself.

In an effort to inspire her peers, Danielle Mendez, a graduating senior at Wilson High School presented on her efforts as a youth activist for her high school. Through UCLA IDEA’s Council of Youth Research, a program that promotes civic education, Mendez and other high school students were able to research educational inequalities affecting their schools.

In a panel, students talked about how budget cuts to education were removing teachers with little seniority. For many students, Mendez said, these have been some of the most effective teachers.

Mendez, felt fortunate to have the opportunity to show other youth how creating change is not limited to school officials or politicians but that they have ability to transform their communities. “I think schools… should start clubs where students can interact with teachers to make change.”

Domonique Alcaraz was born and raised where East L.A. meets Boyle Heights. She is a current senior at Willamette University studying Rhetoric & Media Studies and American Ethnic Studies. She enjoys dancing, reading, learning new things, and helping create a more just society.

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