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.)