Youth Promise Act -- A Real Step in the Right Direction

When it comes to juvenile justice, almost all politicians tend to "outbid" themselves in the amount of time and criminal enhancements that could be added to a juvenile offender's sentence. Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) is the politician who won't go this way. He has sponsored the Youth Promise Act, which is based on prevention and intervention programs that cities and states can create in collaboration with schools, nonprofits, community centers, parents, faith-based organizations, and young people themselves. Funding will only go to evidence-based and provable programs that actually lower gang violence, crime, and the "cradle to prison" pipeline we currently have in this country. It does NOT support suppression or more prison time or sending children into adult courts or three-strikes-and-you're-out type measures.

It's a bill that for once I can actually support and advocate.

This past week, Congressman Scott has been in Los Angeles visiting neglected communities such as Watts and the Pico Union area--meeting leaders in groups like Homies Unidos, CRUSH, and Homeboy Industries. On Thursday, the LA City Council's Ad Hoc Committee on Gang Violence & Youth Development, headed by Councilmember Tony Cardenas, conducted a public hearing on the Youth Promise Act with Congressmen Scott at the City Council chambers downtown. About 300 people showed up, broadcast live by Channel 35.

I was fortunate to be allowed to speak for five minutes on the value of arts, literacy, culture, and spiritual engagement in any work with gang prevention and intervention. Also with me at the table was Fidel Rodriguez of the Spreading Seeds program at Homeboy Industires and two of the youth who are benefiting from their participation.

We also heard testimony from leaders, young people, and others who have been in this work for years, even decades, and the value of real resources to the front end of this issue, and not just the back end (more police and prisons).

The film makers of the new documentary, "Crips & Bloods: Made in America," including the director, Stacy Peralta, were honored at the hearing for this important historical document.

The next day, Friday, the LA City Council voted to endorse the Youth Promise Act--the first major city to do so. I'm proud that our city had the foresight to back this bill.

That evening, I also attended a fund raiser for Congressman Scott at the home of Tom Hayden. Members of the film industry, juvenile justice struggles, foundations, and the progressive community -- as well as gang intervention leaders -- took part in a lively exchange with Councilmember Tony Cardenas and Congressman Scott.

I urge all of my blog readers to contact your Congressman or Congresswoman to support full passage of the Youth Promise Bill. We are in an environment where this is now possible. Let's keep pushing for what's truly needed in our communities. As long time urban peace advocate Aqeel Bashears of Maximum Force said last night, "we're not just talking about gang intervention, but community intervention." Gangs are not an isolated phenomena. They exist in an environment of poverty, lack of jobs, training, educational opportunities, and an absence of creative/innovative programming and real arts/spiritual engagement.

Also, on Friday, I was fortunate to speak to about 300 teachers in the EduAlliance Conference in Long Beach. I was the morning's keynote speaker. And I also made a presentation later that morning on "Hearts & Hands: Creating Community in Troubled Times." We had a great time -- talking about renewing the school environment and to positively impact the lives of young people by helping draw out the gifts, passions, talents, and innate energies that children and youth already bring to the classroom.

I spoke against Standardized Testing, Zero Tolerance, Direct Instruction, and all the ridiculous actions of the past ten years (mostly during the Bush Administration) that has led to teacher burn out, more dropouts, and truly less "educated" young people. We need real imagination and true collaboration between teachers, students, and parents with the same goal: to help shape whole, healthy and meaning relationships with our youth.

Speaking of which, last Tuesday I also spoke to the T-House (Technology House) Freshman at Sylmar High School during their annual parent/student gathering. Led by teacher Mauricio Regalado, this program has been instrumental in raising the grade point average and discipline levels of previously disenchanted and disengaged youth. Some 300 people were present. They offered Mexican food and a Mariachi group before the presentations. I announced that Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural & Bookstore is coming back to the Sylmar community by March 1, and there was much applause.

I'm honored to be included in these efforts and to see our students strive beyond all expectations.

There are ways to get our students alive and active without punishment, intolerance or compliance to outside, unworkable notions and programs. We know what works. The last ten years has seen a decline in our schools and we can turn this around. Tia Chucha's is offering to help in collaboration with the schools, parents, students, and others. Please read my blog for more updates on Tia Chucha's Grand Opening, hours, events, and more.


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