South L.A. Graduates Dream of Future

13 Jun South L.A. Graduates Dream of Future

Community Organizing Helps Students Succeed
By Sandra Hamada

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Brett Williams

Brett Williams, who helped lead a campaign to improve Fremont High School, will attend Cal State Northridge this fall. He is part of Community Coalition's youth program that prepares South L.A. youth for success and leadership in their community.

Brett Williams says he was on the path to becoming another young black male in jail. He nearly failed his freshman year of high school, received multiple suspensions and was on track to being pushed out of school. Now a senior, Williams maintains a 3.0 grade point average, is a leader on campus and this fall will be the first in his family to attend a four-year university.

It all started when the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) announced plans
to make drastic changes at Fremont High School, a chronically underperforming school where Williams was a sophomore. Williams joined Community Coalition’s campaign to transform his school and ultimately himself. He soon went from being sent to the administrator’s office to sitting at the table with school officials and speaking at events with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“I’m different [now] because I have an overall view of why things happen, and why our education system is the way it is. I am involved in something big,” says Williams, who will attend Cal State Northridge.

Beating the Odds
The chances of success are slim for the majority of South Los Angeles students. According to the LAUSD, nearly 52% of students do not make it to graduation and only 15% of seniors last year graduated with the A-G courses and grades needed to be eligible for four-year colleges.

But a recent study by Veronica Terriquez and John Rogers of USC and UCLA, respectively, found that youth
participating in organizing programs like Community Coalition’s are three times more likely to enroll in a four-year university, compared with youth from similar backgrounds who do not join them.

The study “shows the profound impact that community organizing has on the lives of young people. It provides them the opportunity to give back to their community and also gives skills to help them succeed in school,” Terriquez says.

“I’m proud of him,” Mona Lisa Williams says tearfully about Brett, whom she raised as a single mother. “The [Coalition] gave me that hope to keep pushing. You don’t know how much of an impact [it] had on our lives.”

Future Challenges
Even once they get to college, South L.A. graduates will endure hardships beyond what the average student faces.

As an undocumented immigrant, Emily Cruz*, a senior at Locke High School, knew that she would face many extra barriers to get into college. She joined the Coalition to get support.

This fall she will attend UC Irvine. In addition to her studies, she will also be supporting her two younger brothers because her father was recently deported. Nevertheless, she presses forward
with her dreams.

“I can come back to Locke and help the youth,” says Cruz, who wants to become a psychologist. “Every youth deserves to be successful in life and have the opportunity to go to college.”

Hulices Garcia Ruiz will be a freshman at Cal State Northridge. He decided to stay and finish his final year at Dorsey High School even after his parents were deported. “The Coalition encouraged me not to give up,” Garcia Ruiz says. “I am still going to work on [social justice] issues. I am trying to look out for the next generation.”

As for Williams, he plans to be an organizer and work at Community Coalition. “I want to do something big like start an organization like [Congresswoman and Coalition founder] Karen Bass did.”

*Name changed to protect her identity.

Sandra Hamada is the youth program coordinator at Community Coalition.

No Comments
  • Marley
    Posted at 20:51h, 02 March Reply

    It is what all students need – a chance at redemption. And school officials should always make the school student-centric in order to move forward and be a magnet for investors – which is what many schools are aiming for now. Equal opportunity has never had a greater meaning and implementation than now. Marley of

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