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Youth activists score victory as L.A. to fund $1.1-million city youth department

Los Angeles City Hall
Youth activists celebrated on the steps of City Hall Thursday, following an announcement that a youth resource department will be funded.
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After waging a campaign for more than seven years, young activists celebrated a victory on Thursday when Los Angeles officials announced they would set aside $1.1 million for the creation of a centralized resource center for youth.

On the City Hall steps, Council Member Monica Rodriguez, who has been pushing for the formation of a youth-centric department since 2018, and Mayor Eric Garcetti told dozens of young activists the funding would be set aside in the mayor’s budget for the new Youth Development Department.

Los Angeles is one of the few major cities without a youth-focused department — New York, Oakland and San Francisco already have citywide departments, said Lou Calanche, the executive director of Legacy L.A., which offers academic and mentoring support to at-risk young people in East L.A. Calanche also serves on the Los Angeles Police Commission.

Youth isolation brought on by the pandemic and unrest over racial injustice have illuminated the disparities faced by young people of color in the city, Calanche said. In L.A., there are about 800,000 people ages 10 to 24: 200,000 live in poverty, 68,000 aren’t enrolled in school or are unemployed, and more than 3,000 are homeless, Calanche said.

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The proposed department will help centralize the patchwork of youth services that are available, provide oversight to the programs, and most important, give young people a say in what resources the city funds.

“I hope that this is just the beginning,” Calanche told officials and youth activists gathered at City Hall Park. “We want to fill this park with thousands and thousands of young people that are empowered, that are employed, that have access to all the resources that they need to succeed.”

The formal process for the department is still going through City Hall, said Rodriguez, who authored legislation in February to create the department. Its formation will enable the city to also pull in funds at the state and federal levels, she said.

“There’s always been ‘Oh, we can’t do it.’ We shouldn’t apologize for having to be forced to play to the rules of a system that were not developed by the people who are now living here,” Rodriguez said, acknowledging the city has been slow to act. “This is an opportunity for us to lead systemic change in this city.”

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As a freshman at Bravo Medical Magnet High School, Jackie Vargas knocked on the doors of Los Angeles City Council members because she wanted them to acknowledge and act on the lack of resources available to her and her peers.

As a youth member of Legacy L.A. since middle school, Vargas was aware that many of her friends and classmates don’t have easy access to valuable services such as mentoring and tutoring that are readily available to students in other parts of the city. The department will also work to build more intervention programs for at-risk youth.

The movement in support of the youth-focused department grew in recent years. The Invest in Youth Coalition includes more than 50 community and youth-led organizations across the city and showed up in full force on Thursday with dozens of people carrying “Youth Power” signs.

“I can honestly cry right now, because it’s been years,” said Vargas, now 21, her voice full of emotion after Garcetti announced the million-dollar funding. “It’s been years and years of struggle.”

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Vargas, a senior at Cal State Northridge, watched as her 10-year-old sister, Starlyne, a youth leader for the campaign, spoke in support of the department.

Starlyne said she was inspired by her sister’s activism in high school to get involved. She said she has called City Council members and attended council meetings to urge them to create the department.

“I want to grow up in a city that cares about me and cares about my future,” Starlyne said.


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