Youth Discuss Their Hopes for the Future of South LA

Youth brainstorm ideas for various social issues at the CD9 Youth Forum. (Photo by Claudia Dayani)

As youth gathered at the Big House in South LA on Saturday, large sheets of paper were taped on every wall with headings containing social issues such as homelessness, economic development, public safety and beautification. Markers were then distributed for a brainstorming exercise that later prompted discussion about what young people felt were the most prevalent issues affecting their communities.

The teens, all from Council District 9 in South Los Angeles, gathered at the home of nonprofit Nuevo South for a youth forum ahead of the Los Angeles Primary Election. Residents in Council District 9 will get to vote for their next city council member on March 7.

The event was hosted by Jorge Nuño, founder of Nuevo South and one of three candidates vying for a spot to represent the region. It highlighted the importance of civic engagement and encouraged youth to take action to improve their community.

Jennifer Aguayo, a teenager from Jefferson High School, expressed that she hopes change will finally happen and soon.

“We always go to those council meetings and stuff and we speak what we want to see but nothing ever changes so I’m hoping it does change now,” she said.

“We want youth to be engaged because the future of South LA is in the youth,” said Jelani Hendrix, the event’s lead organizer. “We’re not here to tell them what to do or how to be, we just want them to believe in themselves, invest in themselves and develop themselves.”

Many youth expressed concern for the quality of their education, due to the lack of extracurricular programs as well as the general lack in quality that they feel they currently receive. Others felt that street cleanliness and homelessness were also important issues that need to be remedied.

“Our schools - I hope they get better and that we will actually have better programs and cleaner neighborhoods,” said Aguayo.

Another teen, Kimberly Amezquita, said she’d like to see more efforts addressing homelessness. “I see there’s a lot of homeless people out there and I hope to accomplish this through community, like to actually go out as a community and help out these homeless people.”

Though there’s much work to be done, Hendrix says he feels it’s a matter of the youth taking command to confront these issues in order to witness the change.

“If we want South LA or any community to transform, it starts with the youth. The youth have to be invested in the community because I can be invested in the community but if the kids are not invested, things will fall apart,” he said. “If you look at any social or political justice movements in America, youth are at the forefront.”