Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wealthy Donors Fund New Journalism Projects

I’m envious of the new non-profit journalism start-ups with their million dollar endowments. I guess 22 years of great journalism doesn’t count if the writers are teenagers. Too bad these rich, generous donors haven’t read our excellent stories, they would see how young, well-trained journalists have an impact.

As a community leader, L.A. Youth has relationships with mainstream media, both print and broadcast. As a result, policy makers have had to respond to the spotlight placed on difficult issues that affect teens. L.A. Youth shows teens that they can improve their own lives and play an important role in improving their schools and communities. Examples of L.A. Youth articles that served this purpose include:

• An investigative article on teens incarcerated in California mental hospitals without due process that prompted state legislation to address the problem.
• An examination of conditions impeding education at Marshall High School in Los Angeles that prompted a school district investigation and resulted in the author being chosen to serve on the selection committee for a new school district superintendent.
• An article investigating police brutality in the Los Angeles Police Department that was picked up by CBS News.
• A first-person account of life on the streets by a homeless teen that drew attention from the Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio and social service agencies concerned about homeless youth.

We, too, would benefit from the generosity of strangers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Teen Grows Up To Do Great Things

Sept. 22

My first L.A. Youth writer called a few weeks ago to share exciting news. After five long years away from home she received her Master’s and Ph.D in education at the University of Wisconsin.

When we met she was a bright, curious teen in middle school, looking for a way out of her struggling Latino neighborhood. She excelled in everything she did. Mini, as she’s known to family and friends, won a scholarship to Hampshire College in Massachusetts.

We kept in touch as she expanded her educational horizons. After graduating college she returned to Los Angeles to teach at Compton High School, one of the toughest, most troubled campuses in L.A. Most of her pupils were Spanish speakers with limited ability in English, adding to the challenge.

I’ve never forgotten the passionate speech Mini gave at one of our fundraising dinners. Here’s an excerpt:

Many of my students look to me as an older sister and sometimes even a parent figure. I’m the first to find out when they become pregnant or when their father has run out on them – again. I’m the first person they tell when they feel hurt because their mother was left behind in Mexico. They let me know when they are living out of a garage without food or money. But that is not all, they let me know when they are proud of their schoolwork accomplishments…

If you will, close your eyes for a moment, come with me and stand outside my classroom door at Compton High after all the student have left. You see there, up above my door where the window is located? Well, don’t concentrate on the fact that the window is full of bullet holes, I want you to notice how beautifully the sun shines through those bullet holes and fills the room with so much light. Those rays are my students. In the end, there in only hope.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Out of Touch for a Few Days

I’ve not been able to post for a few days due to a health issue. Now I’m back ready to advocate on behalf of teens. Recuperating at home kept me glued to TV where I was horrified to see how many lunatics shout hate-filled rhetoric (and not just on Fox).

Our Sept. issue was delivered to schools and a few libraries this week. The real challenge this school year is maintaining the readership we lost with a reduced press run and bring them to our website.

Excellent suggestions from the board of directors last night to engage corporate partners such as Verizon, Sprint, Boost, AT&T and other mobile providers. We’re a perfect fit for these companies to reach teen consumers.

Sometimes the outside world comes to us. A weary social worker in Moab, Utah begged me to send her a how-to guide to launch a teen-written newspaper. “We had five pregnant teens last year in a high school with fewer than 200 students,” she lamented. “I want to help these kids talk about responsible sexuality and let then write their personal stories. The local newspaper would never report the problems we’re having in this community, and the outside media only report on polygamists.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

L.A. Youth Sept. 2009 issue

“Thanks for keeping me on your distribution list. Our classroom budgets have been cut next to nothing,” remarked a teacher at Azusa High School.

We, too, are making huge cuts. As I mentioned before, the press run this weekend will be reduced from 120,000 to 60,000. None of the libraries will receive the Sept. issue, perhaps by Oct. we can raise enough money to expand the press run. This is the worst year to reduce the number of copies with all the state education budget cuts and the increase in classroom size.

This network of teachers is one of our most valuable assets. The three L.A. Youth editors visit two or three classrooms a week, encouraging students to enter one of our essay or art contest or write a letter to the editor. We publish a four-page teacher’s guide (now available only on our website) that is tailored to each issue of L.A. Youth and filled with tips on how to use the paper in the classroom. It’s a ready-made lesson plan for teachers and is aligned with the English and Social Studies requirements in high schools. Every few years we ply half-dozen teachers with coffee and cookies and pick their brains about ways to improve the guide.

The Sept. cover has a marvelous illustration by Lily Clark, Immaculate Heart High School. Several articles about teens and money management, very timely.

Teens, teachers, parents and community folks look for our stories at since you won’t find them in libraries or community agencies.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

School Opens and Presses Roll

Presses roll this Saturday after a summer of writing workshops, field trips, newcomer’s day and other activities. The days before printing the Sept. issue creates excitement in the office with last-minute headline changes, teasing among the staff as to which cover is most compelling and the detailed inputting of information in the database.

We sent postcards to more than 1,300 teachers who subscribed to the paper last school year. Only 20 percent responded so we had no choice but to call the other 80 percent to find out if they want the paper, have transferred to another school, were laid off or worse, passed away over the summer!

Here’s the sad part of my tale – we lost our printing support from the L.A. Times. For 20 years they donated printing and in recent years donated delivery. The Times is in bankruptcy (translation: The Times will give us $15,000 credit for the year but we still have to pay them $45,000!). The hardest decision I had to make was to cut the press run from 120,000 copies to 60,000 copies and drop the libraries. We can only provide newspapers to schools and a few dozen public agencies.

Teens and teachers want hard copies even though every article is available on our website, After reading this please send a donation via PayPal or “snail mail” so we can restore copies to the libraries and community centers.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Please Governor, Help California's Children & Youth

Children are being punished for the misdeeds of their elders. Governor Schwarzenegger’s $80 million line-item veto of Child Welfare Services is unprecedented.
I was appointed to The California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care in March 2006 by Supreme Court Chief Justice M. Ronald George. Its charge is to provide recommendations to the California Judicial Council on the ways in which the courts and their partners can improve safety, permanency, well-being, and fairness outcomes for children and families. The commission issued final recommendations to the Judicial Council on August 15, 2008. The recommendations focus on four areas: 1) efforts to prevent removal and achieve permanency; 2) court reforms; 3) collaboration between the courts and their child welfare partners; and 4) resources and funding.
The likelihood of achieving these improvements is seriously compromised by the reduction in Child Welfare Services. California’s child welfare system is already seriously under-resourced.
The folks in Sacramento have a legal and moral commitment to care for children and youth in foster care. Would they put their own families in jeopardy? I doubt it.

The cuts must be restored.

False Accusations

I was on a conference call this morning, taking notes, moving papers on my desk (multi-tasking, of course) when I looked up to see a familiar face, one of our former writers. I jumped up, gave him a hug, signaled to him to take a seat while I finished the call.

Jeff was in jail for the past three months on charges that he abused his girlfriend and stole her purse. He denied the charges and refused to “plea bargain” insisting he was innocent. His bail was set extremely high which made it impossible for him to be released while awaiting sentencing. Jeff had the good fortune to be assigned a caring public defender that investigated the charges and ultimately found the girl’s story inconsistent and unreliable.

The judge dismissed the charges. Jeff was released.

Does the justice system work? Sometimes yes, most of the time no, if you’re poor and non-white. Jeff grew up in foster care another example of a dysfunctional bureaucratic system.

End of story? Jeff has a long way to go – finding a job, buying a car, eventually renting his own apartment but he has lots of caring friends at L.A. Youth.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Malibu, Marley and Me

Celebrities, politicians and Malibu Colony. The perfect combination for a casual afternoon in a gorgeous setting and a chance to meet one of California’s rising political stars – San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris and candidate for State Attorney General. Kamala parents are children of the ‘60s, Berkeley alums and bay area advocates. She’s an excellent candidate with strong credentials and knowledge of California’s criminal justice system.

I was whipped and sunburned standing in the glaring sunlight for three hours but not so much that I couldn’t sway to Ziggy Marley’s electrifying performance. He sounds like his father, looks like him, too, with the same warm songs to mellow out the afternoon.

My 13-year-old grandson Jordan Myrow accompanied me to the event. His father is a fanatic Bob Marley fan, he named his youngest son Jackson Marley.