By Alex Medina
Jacky Vargas believes that a disproportionate amount of the L.A. city budget goes towards dealing with crime, and not enough towards positive youth development.
“How do they have [almost] half of the pie going towards police and not having much of the budget going towards youth or programs for youth”, said the 17-year old Senior from Bravo High School. “New York and San Francisco have a Youth Development [department] and yet L.A., being one of the biggest cities in our nation, does not.”
Vargas is calling attention to this discrepancy by running for mayor. Last week, she announced her mock candidacy at a public forum hosted by Boyle Heights Building Healthy Communities (BHC) as part of its Boyle Heights for Youth campaign. More than a hundred students from area schools attended the event at Self Help Graphics in Boyle Heights and cheered as balloons dropped when Vargas took the stage.
Youth had the opportunity to vote on the services they believed should be prioritized by the city, such as mentoring, support for LGBTQ+ youth, school restorative justice, health, art and culture, and real job training. They also used social media to promote their campaign and tagged authorities –such as the mayor and the local councilman– in their posts. They used the hashtag #Jacky4Mayor and encouraged others to use it on Twitter, Instagram and other social media.
Lou Calanche, the executive director of Legacy L.A. –a community-based non-profit organization focused on youth development and member of the BHC– said she hoped that the Youth Mayor campaign would help convince Mayor Eric Garcetti –a frontrunner in this year’s real mayoral election– to adopt the youth platform in order to ensure that more programs are made available to assist young people.
One of the main issues brought up at the event is how much of the city money goes towards policing. According a published summary for the fiscal year 2016-17, 43.2% of the budget goes to Community Safety, which includes the police and fire departments and public assistance. Services for youth are provided by various agencies under different categories in the budget.
Calanche said that the Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) has a budget of about $35 million, but that it only provides intervention once a student has already gotten in trouble. Youth leaders like Vargas are asking the Mayor and City
Council to allocate an extra $10 million dollars in the city budget to go towards youth development programs so that the youth of Los Angeles are given consideration.
Vargas joined Legacy L.A. during her sophomore year in high school and says that being a member of the organization helped her become informed about issues in the community while getting to express her own opinion on such matters.
“I’ve always had a strong opinion on everything,” said Vargas. “At Legacy L.A., we speak a lot about problems in our community such as policing, criminalization, gangs, how youth are perceived as being bad, and how little money goes towards helping the youth”.
Kevin Rojas, a student from Theodore Roosevelt High School, says that he attended the Youth Mayor Launch because “events like these affect my community, my future generations.”
Teens enjoyed food and drinks such as tacos, cookies, tostadas, aguas frescas, water, and soda. Throughout the event, lively music filled the room as attendants engaged in activities such as button making and silkscreening empowering messages onto T-shirts and cardstock.
One of the highlights of the event was a Spoken Word presentation where Rachell Apolinar, Vicky Garcia, Katelee Cervantes, and Cassandra Castillo –all seniors from Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School– recited their poetry. Their pieces spoke of the struggles students face in Los Angeles due to stigma surrounding certain types of youth and the lack of youth services.
Vargas hopes that the Youth Mayor Campaign will catch Garcetti’s attention. She also hopes that her campaign helps end the stigma surrounding youth, particularly those of Latino descent.
“I’m not those stereotypes that they make me out to be, which is why I’m here trying to make a difference so that they see that I’m trying to make a change,” she said.
Photo above: Jackie Vargas launched her campaign for mayor last week at Self Help Graphics. Photo by Alex Medina.
More moments from the launch: