SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Youth from six inner-city schools gathered at Los Angeles Trade-Tech College May 18 for the second annual Emerging Leaders Youth Summit as a part of National Prevention Week, an annual observance dedicated to increasing public awareness of mental health and substance abuse disorders.
Patricia Esquivel, program director for People Coordinated Services of Southern California, said, “The idea of the summit is to bring the youth together to combat the drug use, violence, and many of the other things we are seeing in our communities by bringing them together to create a safe space to talk about these things as well as the effects.”
“We administered a survey at a number of the schools we work with and asked [youth] what they wanted to hear on and get more information on, so these workshops are really for them created by them.”
Facilitated by experts in their own fields, the day opened with a discussion on “The Dangers of Edibles, Concentrates, and Vapes,” followed by four session topic areas.
“The New Normal” looked at different types of relationships along with tools for effective communication and healthy coping skills where youth were led through engaging dialogue on sexuality, effective communication and coping skills.
In “Skin Color Does Not Divide Us,” youth participants were guided through discussion on the history and present experiences of black and Latino unity. Youth closed the session with individual and group affirmations centered on black and brown unity.
“Community Touchstones” explored the art, history, landscape and people of black and Latino communities and neighborhoods.
In the “Juvenile Justice” workshop, Jaaye Person-Lynn guided 10 black and Latino youth ages 12-15 through dialogue on knowing their rights and how to interact with police officers and officials respectfully to avoid confrontations.
Raised in Inglewood and South Los Angeles, Person-Lynn said his main passion is bringing awareness to and properly addressing the targeting of black men.
“Growing up here in L.A., I understand personally our power and am committed to the work of strengthening us as a people,” he said. That’s what got me into this work.”
One 15-year-old Black male participant asserted, “We need stuff like this.”
Corey Matthews, chief operating officer of Community Coalition, one of the sponsoring organization, said, “A major reason why [the Summit] is important is the context in which the SPA-6 Prevention Coalition does its work.
“South Los Angeles has long grappled with the fallout from the unjust overcriminalization of drug use. Our county’s prisons hold a disproportionate amount of black and brown people who were given long, unnecessarily harsh sentences for simple drug possession. We’re tired of seeing our youth in prison and preventing underage drug use is a way to help stop that flow.
One 14-year-old participant shared his thoughts.
“I like [the Summit], because it gives us stuff to use for our real life. We always see stuff happening to black and Latino people and nobody is really talking about. I like the Summit and I can’t wait ‘til the next one.”
“We’re more powerful united as a community than when acting alone,” Matthews added. “A healthier South Los Angeles will take a community effort. There are many ways to get involved. Our youth can share what they learn with their peers and continue organizing for more resources for our neighborhoods.
“South L.A.’s parents can continue to educate their children on the harms of substance misuse and the root causes of where it comes from. They can also get involved in local organizing efforts at community organizations like Community Coalition and others.”