Monday, June 28, 2010

Youth Media Education Conference

Approximately 200 youngsters from area schools like Dorsey, Crenshaw, Gardena and Washington Prep, and other teens from Bret Harte Middle School, Cerritos High School and Covenant House, participated in a Youth Media Education Conference on June 3rd at Cal State University Dominguez Hills. The conference featured youth-led workshops, panels and performances that examined the cultural and historical impact of media representation and how it impacts their lives as youth of color. The event was coordinated by writer and intergroup specialist Sikivu Hutchinson and was sponsored by the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, the Gardena Health Start Collaborative and the Women of Color Media Justice Initiative. Conference themes focused on a number of provocative questions. What are gender stereotypes in the media and how do they affect cultural beauty standards vis-à-vis black and Latina young women’s self-image and self-esteem? How can youth of color dispel the dominant culture’s negative images of who they are? How can undocumented youth advocate for themselves? What mainstream stereotypes and barriers contribute to the epidemic of homelessness amongst youth of color and lesbian and gay youth? The conference was an eye-opener for Sonny Jones, an outspoken young man and member of Gardena High School’s Beyond the Bell leadership of diversity group. Jones’ group presented on the media’s promotion of violent masculinity. The group began their workshop with a gender role reversal skit in which Jones played the part of a man going on a job interview for the first time and a female classmate played the part of his disapproving breadwinner wife. During the skit, Jones was cat-called by girls on the street, told he looked like he was applying for the secretarial position instead of the executive job and reminded that there was no childcare or leave time for the job. “It showed me that there should be equality between men and women, and people should be doing jobs, not on the basis of gender, but on what they can do,” he said.
In another workshop, Gardena High School Women’s Leadership Project students presented on the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes in advertizing. Eleventh graders Dercy de la Cruz and Imani Moses discussed how, from early childhood, boys are taught to play with action figures and girls are encouraged to play with dolls. “We are being told, in subtle ways, that men are to be strong, aggressive and in control, while we should know how to clean house, cook and take care of children.” Among the most touching group of youngsters were those who are AB540 undocumented students. These are teens that were born outside of the United States and are trying to go to college. The Future Underrepresented Educated Leaders (FUEL) advocacy group from Cal State University Long Beach (CSULB) addressed the special hurdles AB540 youth face preparing for and funding college. CSULB student Marlene led the workshop and received positive feedback from the culturally diverse group of African American and Latino youth participants. She made the point that undocumented status affects youth from culturally diverse backgrounds, not just Latino youth, and that they needed to establish a “network among themselves.” “Once you are out of school, “she said, “You will be getting very little in the way of help. So relying on your network of colleagues and friends will be invaluable in moving you forward towards your goal.” Members of Gardena High School’s Gay/Straight Alliance performed a poignant skit about the coming out process and parents’ homophobic anxieties and misperceptions. Some of the audience members’ responses surprised the actors. Some of the youth thought that one’s sexuality was a matter of personal preference and not something that one is born with. “It made me think about how much more work we need to do to educate other teens, “said Crystal Perez, a member of the Gay/Straight Alliance who identified herself as bisexual. Crystal got into heated discussions with some of her peers about the “immorality” of being gay, while others expressed solidarity and called for tolerance.
Other workshop sessions focused on increasing one’s sense of self-esteem, particularly in fostering healthy relationships, and the connection between the “normalization” of violence against women and increasing levels of sexual harassment and sexual assault among youth. The Bricks, an eleven-member multiracial youth band, sponsored by the County, performed songs on xenophobia and anti-racism at the end of the day-long series of workshops.
Story By Ava Gutierrez ( the public information officer for Community and Senior Services, County of Los Angeles.)

Gardena High School Women’s History Month Forum

On March 24th students from the Women’s Leadership Project and Leadership of Diversity club collaborated on a Women’s History Month Forum. The forum was attended by Social Studies, Health, English and Government classes in the Social Hall. The event featured spoken word narratives on female historical figures like Sojourner Truth, Dolores Huerta, Shirley Chisholm, Luisa Moreno and Ida B. Wells. The forum was designed to introduce Gardena students to little known social history on communities of color. Students also developed a role reversal skit that highlighted women’s everyday experiences with sexual harassment, workplace discrimination and the double burden of domestic work and caregiving in the home. The forum concluded with a spirited student debate on a woman’s right to choose, featuring pro-choice and anti-choice perspectives and questions from the audience.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 4th Youth Media Education Symposium

On June 4th 2009, 130 students and adults from Gardena, Crenshaw, Dorsey and King-Drew Medical Magnet High Schools, in addition to Audubon and Horace Mann Middle School participated in a Youth Media Education Symposium sponsored and supported by the Women of Color Media Justice Initiative, the California Women’s Foundation and the Gardena High School Healthy Start Collaborative. The event was held at California State Dominguez Hills’ Loker Student Union. Students and youth advocates gave presentations on media literacy and advocacy which focused on analyzing media representations of young women and men of color, addressing violence against women of color in music and video, developing positive images of masculinity and male responsibility, and dissecting media stereotypes of LGBT communities of color. Women’s Leadership Project students presented a workshop that examined the similarities in the history of media imagery of African American women and Latinas. Representatives from Peace Over Violence, Mother’s Day Radio and the LACHRC also gave presentations. Artist and musician Nailah Porter provided inspirational words and songs on socially responsible music for the closing debrief session.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Women’s Leadership Project 2008-2009

This year’s cohort of the Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) has been involved in organizing around health literacy, media literacy and women’s rights. Highlights include taking the lead on launching Mix It Up Day for cultural diversity, organizing a Day of Remembrance for youth, attending an HIV/AIDS awareness conference for women and girls and educating GHS students and adults about sexual assault and sexual harassment through meetings with administrators, workshops and Denim Day outreach. WLP president Clay Wesley is also a foster care youth advocate who has traveled to Sacramento to lobby for foster care legislation and a participant in the Women of Color Media Justice Initiative’s radio production training at KPFK radio.

A Day of Remembrance

On March 31st, the Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) and Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) held a Day of Remembrance commemorating youth lost to gang violence, HIV/AIDS, hate crime and domestic abuse. The event featured an assembly with original GSA and WLP skits, music, poetry readings and dedications to loved ones. Speaker Isaiah Whiteside gave a moving talk about being HIV positive and reflected on the risk factors/challenges of living with HIV for youth of color. The students gathered in the quad during lunch time for a celebration in which reflections and letters from audience participants were collected, tied to balloons and released from the quad stage in a “Letters to Heaven” ceremony. The students passed out grief and mental health resource information and did peace/love face painting for participants. A mural with all of the contributions was mounted in the main hall of the school.

Media Literacy and Advocacy

During the spring semester of 2009 the Women of Color Media Justice Initiative (WCMJI) partnered with GHS and two other high schools to train students on media literacy and media advocacy with an emphasis on gender politics. February-March trainings featured students from GHS Life Skills, Peer Health and Government classes in addition to King-Drew Medical Magnet’s after school program. WCMJI partners Ida B. Wells Institute, Mother’s Day Radio, the City Commission on the Status of Women and the Women’s Leadership Project has received funding from the California Women’s Foundation to do training and education on media education. WCMJI has recruited and trained Cal State Los Angeles students to work with its high schools on deconstructing racism and sexism in the media, challenging mainstream media-influenced gender roles and examining the gender/racial politics of hip hop representation. Students who participate in the program will be involved in letter writing, drafting editorials and contacting music industry corporations and media outlets to advocate for socially responsible images in hip hop, rap and other music genres.

California Women’s Conference

On October 22nd thirteen Women’s Leadership Project students attended the Governor’s Women’s Conference with 500 invited high school students from across the state. Speakers included Condoleeza Rice, journalist Christiane Amanpour and civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman. Students who participated were required to complete thirty hours of community service and send in an evaluation of their outreach to the California Women’s Foundation

Zerohour Election Forum

On Monday, November 3rd over 200 Gardena seniors took part in a zerohour election forum. Students from the Women’s Leadership Project (WLP), Gay/Straight Alliance, Peer Health and Government classes presented and debated on the California Ballot Propositions and issues from the presidential campaign. Students had lively discussion on the Same-Sex Marriage Initiative (Prop 8), the Parental Notification Initiative (Prop 4) and the Drug-Rehabilitation Initiative for non-violent offenders (Prop 5). Students arguing for Team Obama and Team McCain debated on education policy, a woman’s right to choose and the Iraq war. WLP students presented on two key policy issues that were important to women in the election. Prior to the forum during the month of October, Women’s Leadership Project students conducted class- to-class voter registration targeting 12th graders and mailed completed registration forms. Special thanks are due to History teacher Saul Lankster and Health teacher Debbie Wallace for their support in helping coordinate the election forum presentations.