May 27 2015

We showed up yesterday. Students. Parents. Community organizers. And a band. That’s right, at the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters, located in Downtown Los Angeles, that normally houses some hefty decisions on school budgets and dialogue on education reform—but today they were treated to a music concert with sounds resonating from the east side and lyrics developed in conjunction with Grammy-Award winning artists from the band Quetzal.

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Last year, members of the band led a series of collective songwriting workshops and the topic of discussion was the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and school budgets. The song that developed was a booming rock beat fusing together a number of different sounds, but with one clear message: we want more supportive programs at schools like Roosevelt and Mendez High School that will ensure student success and increase the graduation rate. The whole notion of “Artivism” was present as some of the students that helped produce the music video, “Lights On” were on hand leading today’s RALLY FOR JUSTICE.

And today, that message came to the doorstep of LAUSD. As workers and visitors poured out of the building, they stopped and listened to the music. The noise emanated from students and parents, demanding more counselors at their schools, more mental health services, and a decrease of LCFF dollars going to fund school police.

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Instead, these activists want to see their LCFF dollars provide additional restorative justice programs and wellness centers. The song was clear and hit at the nerve of what folks are beginning to wonder, “Where does all the money go?” This issue of transparency continues to resonate as it is incredibly challenging to decipher the school budget code, with large sums of money being allocated to fund services that don’t provide much detail to how they will impact low-income, English language learners or foster youth, as dictated by the LCFF regulations.

At 3:43pm, a bus full of students from Roosevelt High School unloaded on Beaudry Ave and these teens knew exactly what to do. They marched off the bus and straight to a pile of poster boards they had painted in the last couple of weeks. These poster boards were carried with pride, with strong messages like Counselors Not Cops and LCFF Means Solutions Not Suspensions. Over the course of several weeks, these students came to our youth center at the YMCA on Whittier Blvd to make these signs and organize themselves to get ready for today’s event. I could tell that when the music started blaring over the speakers, these student organizers were content.

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Stephanie Medina, who grew up in Boyle Heights, said she felt “powerful and proud of what was accomplished today.” She continued, “It was really exciting to be here. And I think today really informed everyone of our demands as we get ready for the next stage in our community organizing.”

That next stage will be planning another demonstration at the School Board for the Public Hearings on LCFF budget items, currently scheduled for Tuesday, June 16, 2015.

I anticipate that our YMCA youth center will be busy over the next couple of weeks, filling once again with the energy of teenagers who are dedicating themselves to their community. I’m fine with this notion, because it comes with the territory of serving as Director of Youth Development for the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA.

If you were lucky enough to catch today’s concert, we thank you for being there. If you missed it, you can watch the “Lights On” music video below.

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