Thursday, June 5, 2014

Profiles of the Young Women of Gardena High School's WLP

Pictured: Sikivu Hutchinson, Lena Tina Fongang, Tiare Hill, Caithlyn Torres, Betsy Casas, Yvonne Arechiga, Marenda Kyle, Jennifer Gomez, Lizeth Soria, Betty Rosenda Green. Missing: Danielle Woodcock.

The ladies of Gardena High School's Women's Leadership Project 2013-2014:

Lena Tina Fongang
This upcoming fall semester, Lena plans to attend El Camino College where she will take up nursing courses. Lena has the goal of transferring to UCLA or UCSB to complete her Bachelor's degree in nursing and eventually plans to attend medical school to become a physician. Another future plan of Lena's is to start a non-profit organization whose mission is to support children in under-served communities in the area of education.
Aside from her professional goals, Lena wants to travel to all of the 24 countries she has on her list of places to visit such as Costa Rica, Greece, Italy and Jamaica.
Reflecting on her WLP experience, Lena says that WLP has helped her to feel better about herself as well as learn to critically think about society and the different issues that affect young female students of color. She says that is is through the meetings where stereotypes related to race and gender were discussed that she was able to understand different issues more deeply.

Tiare Hill
After Gardena High School, Tiare plans to transfer into a four year university where she will major in journalism and will become a television news anchor reporting on the issues that the larger society needs to know about. She is passionate about issues related to the justice system and the discrimination that the African American community faces. Tiare wants to bring about positive change related to these issues through her work as a news anchor. Aside from her academics, Tiare loves to sing, play volleyball and be with her friends.
Having been introduced to WLP by Jennifer Gomez, Tiare has been able to enjoy the rich and important discussions on issues faced by women, particularly women of color, as well as the fun bonding activities that WLP has, such as the camping experience at the beginning of the school year.

Caithlyn Torres
Always displaying her entrepreneurial and creative spirit, Caithlyn has plans of becoming an entrepreneur and starting up her own business with future business partners after she graduates. She also will be working towards becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner and will have this practice while simultaneously maintaining her future business.
Caithlyn enjoys playing volleyball and art and she firmly believes the importance of going after something she wants. The fact that she has more than one career goal shows that she believes she can be the type of person she wants to be and she does not need to fit into a box.

Betsy Casas
Before attending UCLA in the fall, Betsy plans to enjoy her summer by traveling to Mexico to visit her father and her dog. Aside from being inspired by her supportive parents, Betsy is motivated by many things, such as her own personal dreams, her surroundings as well as her failures. She says that in her current state of life she is greatly interested in exploring her world and the world outside. With the support of WLP, Betsy has been able to understand her world more deeply as well as discuss and comprehend various subjects she had never talked about before. Also through WLP, she has learned to question many unfair situations that have happened to her as well as in her environment.

Yvonne Arechiga
After graduation, Yvonne will attend Long Beach City College before transferring into a four year university. She plans to major in Business Administration and sees her father as one of her biggest influences. His journey of moving to the United States at a young age and doing years of hard work to finally becoming his own boss has greatly inspired her and her choice of majoring in the business field. Yvonne states that achieving her dreams motivates and reminds her to not give up and that if she wants to accomplish a goal, she understands the importance of facing obstacles.

Marenda Kyle
Please see her bio below.

Jennifer Gomez
Jennifer is proud to attend Cal State Dominguez Hills this upcoming fall. Although she is not completely sure as to what she will major in, she wants to explore the areas of music engineering, tour management, event planning as well as the work of a probation officer. Jennifer also understands how a formal education can help her to earn a financial wage where she can live comfortably and can indulge in spending if she chooses. Like several of her WLP peers, she enjoys playing volleyball and being involved with campus activities, such as Leadership.
She states that her experience with WLP has had a big impact during the two years she was involved. WLP has helped her to find her voice and to be less timid when it comes to sharing her mind as well as learning how to be more independent.

Danielle Woodcock 
Danielle will be a senior at Gardena High School this upcoming fall and plans to attend a four year institution afterwards. She wants to obtain her Bachelor's degree in Psychology and will move on to working on her PhD. Being aware of her privileges, Danielle says that she is passionate about social justice and equality for all as well as educating her community about issues that are not given the amount of attention that is needed, such as violence against women. Issues that affect marginalized groups and different struggles that the human race faces are what inspires her the most, which is why she has participated in many of WLP's events, such as Denim Day and Women's History Month.
Danielle says that WLP has helped her to become more socially aware as well as more confident with speaking out when people who have privilege are apathetic and do not help to create positive social change.

Marenda Kyle: Future Educator, WLP Service Award

Women’s Leadership Project service award winner Marenda Kyle has always expressed a passion for education and women’s rights. Last year, she moved to Los Angeles from Bethesda, Maryland. Although she has only been in the program for a year, she participated in nearly every student campus outreach, workshop and field trip. During WLP’s women’s history month assembly she presented on the life of one of her role models; civil rights activist Diane Nash, an important yet little known founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who was jailed for civil disobedience.

Marenda will attend CSUN in the fall and was recently awarded a $1000 scholarship for achievement by Delta Sigma Theta. She wants to focus on Early Childhood Development and pursue a Master’s in Education. She has had extensive experience volunteering at early childhood learning centers and teaching preschool students. Despite having had a few strong adult mentors at Gardena, her overall impression is that many adults in public schools have negative/low expectations for youth of color which lead them to underachieve. As an educator she hopes to play a role in redressing these issues. She believes that “giving back to the community” is of the utmost importance in helping other women of color succeed.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

From Foster Care to College: Clay Wesley, Inspirational Youth Leader

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Anyone who meets Clay Wesley can’t help but be impressed by her intellectual fierceness, wry wit and deep sense of compassion. I first met Clay when I was teaching a Life Skills workshop on racism and identity at Gardena High School in 2007. She was outspoken about social justice issues and shone as an inquisitive mind and forceful debater. When she began participating in the Women’s Leadership Project she dove right into our school-community outreach on sexual assault and sexual harassment, HIV/AIDS prevention, intimate partner violence and college preparation. During the 2008 election cycle she was a strong voice at our student debates on Proposition 4 (which would have required parental notification for abortion) and Proposition 8. Clay’s support of choice and reproductive rights was inspirational to other young African American women who have been bombarded with shaming religious messages that abortion is sinful and immoral. Responding to the loss of friends and family as a result of gang, drug, intimate partner and anti-LGBT-related violence in their communities, Clay also helped organize a Day of Remembrance with her peers. For Clay, WLP was formative because, “Many of us have no one in our lives discussing sexism, domestic abuse or going to college.”

Clay lost both of her parents in middle school and had to become self-sufficient at an early age. She supported herself through high school and community college with part-time jobs while being in the foster care system. Like many foster youth she’s been in multiple placements and homes, struggling to find transitional housing after she aged out of the system at eighteen. In addition to her involvement with WLP, Clay was a youth advocate for California Youth Connection (CYC), a foster care advocacy and support network. Through her work with CYC, she travelled to Sacramento to lobby legislators to support Assembly Bill 12, which was designed to provide resources for youth who age out of foster care. Currently she juggles positions at the Alliance for Children’s Rights, the Southern California Foster family agency and the Foster club.

This month, she will get her AA degree from Southwest Community College and plans to transfer to a four year university in the spring. With a 70% African American population, only 29% of Southwest’s students transfer in six years. Clay believes that the environment at Southwest, specifically the scarcity of supportive academic and social resource providers, is disenabling for many students. Black students disproportionately come from schools where they have minimal to no college preparation. As a result, most have to wade through remedial classes before taking their core college requirements. Clay credits strong mentors with giving her the leg up to make it through the process—yet it’s a hurdle that is often more difficult for foster youth to overcome than going to a four year institution. According to the Pew Research Center, fewer than 3 percent of foster care youth will graduate from college. The stats are even graver for African American youth, who are over-represented in the foster care population. Nationwide, black foster youth are more likely to become homeless and/or incarcerated due partly to racist profiling, sentencing and incarceration policies which exacerbate the lack of community resources for foster and homeless youth.

Over the past several years, Clay has worked as an intern with WLP, mentoring homeless youth at Covenant House California, conducting HIV/AIDS outreach at Washington Prep High and sharing her experiences as a foster care youth navigating college with students throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District. Her love for debating, public speaking and helping others has her leaning toward sociology, political science or communications majors. As an inspiring leader and role model in her own right, she has her eye on positions with emphases on public policy, law and education. Though making this journey without her parents has been painful she feels doubly motivated by their vision for her: “Before my father died I promised him that I would graduate with my college degree. He was very big on education and I always wanted to make him proud.”