Making a Difference West Edition

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Social Justice Learning Institute reaches out to youth

INGLEWOOD — The seed for the Social Justice Learning Institute was planted years ago at Morningside High School. Having graduated from Morningside when he was a teenager, the nonprofit’s founder and executive director, D’artagnan Scorza, knew very well about the community’s issues related to its limited access to health, education and the environment.

Scorza’s time at UCLA as a McNair Undergraduate Research Scholar opened his eyes to styles of teaching that focused on research training skills and critical thinking. Scorza believed that what he learned could improve academic outcomes in his community and other communities of color.

Soon after, in 2006, Scorza took his learnings to Morningside and the the Black Male Youth Academy was born. The program provided its first mentorships to 30 youth with a focus on critically thinking about gender, class and race.

The success of the youth academy program eventually gave rise to the the Social Justice Learning Institute (SJLI) in 2008.

“We help ensure that young men of color graduate high school and that formerly incarcerated youth transform successfully outside of the juvenile justice system,” Scorza said about the work SJLI does. “We help create educational pathways for students who aren’t likely to do well without the help we provide.”

The organization does this through several educational equity programs called Urban Scholars, one of which is Compadres.

The program, which started five years ago, supports young Latino males in high school and exposes them to Latin American history, Mesoamerican culture and ideas of masculinity. The goal of Compadres is to decrease the dropout rate of Latino youth, and increase their attendance in college and four-year universities

Another program is Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men, or BLOOM, which is a partnership between the California Community Foundation and SJLI’s Black Male Youth Academy. That program is for black males between 14 and 18 years-of-age who are or have been involved with the Los Angeles County probation system.

D’artagnan Scorza

Since its launch in 2012, BLOOM has helped more than 500 black youth develop skills to complete high school and pursue post-secondary opportunities. According to its website, 85 percent of those who have participated in the program have not violated their probations. The program garnered the attention of the White House during the Obama adminsirtation, which has considered it as a model to be used throughout the country.

But education equity isn’t the only focus of SJLI. The nonprofit is also devoted to addressing and alleviating the health disparities in communities of color through its health equity programs, like 100 Seeds of Change.

“We are addressing the health of people in communities by reducing obesity and food-related illness through health education,” Scorza said. As a response to the health risk factors associated with unequal food access, SJLI works with schools and communities to build gardens where people can learn about healthy eating, environmental sustainability and more.

Since the implementation of health programs like 100 Seeds of Change, the organization has helped residents increase their consumption of fruit consumption 33 percent and consumption of vegetables by 35 percent, Scorza said.

But the work the SJLI does ultimately boils down to creating leaders that can rise and transform their communities, Scorza said, and they seem to be reaching far.

“We help more than 12,500 youth each year. That includes youth in local schools and people directly impacted by our programs,” Scorza said. From Inglewood to Hawthorne, Lennox, Compton and other communities in need, the SJLI is creating strong leaders that will rebuild their neighborhoods for generations to come.

INFORMATION BOX

CEO: D’artagnan Scorza

Years in operation: 9

Annual budget: $1.5 million

Number of employees: 22

Location: 6000 Centinela Ave., Inglewood, 90302.