NOEMI MADRIGAL grew up in Watts and saw many of her peers lost to the streets. Now 22 and a senior at Cal State L.A., she researches youth programs for the county Children's Planning Council. She is also a member of Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan's Committee on Children, Youth and Families. She talks with JAMES BLAIR about the mentoring and programs that kept her pointed in the right direction. As I looked back on the people I went to junior high school and high school with, pulled out the yearbooks and asked "What are they doing now?" I began to realize that a lot of them are on welfare, unemployed or have been incarcerated. They hadn't sought out those opportunities that were readily available to me. My job with the city and county is to find out why that happened.
In the process, I came to understand better what had worked for me.
My parents come from a small town in Mexico and are very, very strict. I had to report to them at certain times, be home at certain times, let them know where I was going, who I was going with, what time I'd be back and who was responsible.
Besides the family, there have been others who have influenced me: art center directors, teachers, people I worked with in the community, neighbors, even some peers have been there for me.. It was having a place to go--my family lived directly across from the Watts Towers Art Center. It was knowing you could take dance classes and guitar lessons. It was getting dirty with the clay and the paint and chalk and the crayons.
In junior high school, I became an Explorer Scout with the Los Angeles Police Department, out of their Southeast Division. That included two rigorous training days each week. Every Saturday was a field day at the Police Academy in Elysian Park--almost 12 hours of classes and physical endurance.
If somebody--a peer, somebody I work with, a younger person--comes to me and seeks help, I couldn't turn them away because I was rarely, if ever, turned away. The door was never shut in my face. Now I can incorporate what was given to me into helping another.
The voice of a young person a lot of times isn't heard because they feel they're not powerful enough. If you don't tell somebody what your needs are, how can programs be successful? When a young person finally yells out, the world listens.