Byline: Jeremy Lahoud,
As 16-year-old Corleone Ham––a youth leader in the Khmer Girls in Action (KGA) Young Men’s Empowerment Program stated so eloquently, the issues, conditions, and structural racism that young men of color face in Los Angeles County make “me and other young men feel like we don’t matter. And we really want to matter.”
Last Friday’s Los Angeles Regional Hearing of the California Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color proved that young men of color in L.A. County—and the entire State of California—do matter. Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at University of Southern California, Manuel Pastor, pointed out that people of color already make up 60% of California’s population, a figure that will reach three-fourths of the state population by 2050.
I’m convinced that California’s voters cannot continue to back propositions nor elect policymakers that divest from our state’s boys and young men of color, based on the notion that these children––our children––are a “racial other” or engender a “violent, criminal threat”. The reality of the matter is that the prosperity of all communities in California and the state’s future rely on a full investment of resources in the creativity, talents, skills, and well being of our boys and men of color, as well as their sisters.
But more than statistics and scholarly analysis, it was the impassioned testimony of the young men of color before the panel of more than a half-dozen State Assembly Members and an audience of more than 500 other young people and community members that drove home the point that young men of color really do matter. Over the past several months, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know and work with these powerful young men, today’s leaders of South Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, and Long Beach, as part of the “Brothers, Sons, Selves” Boys and Men of Color Coalition.
On Friday, we witnessed firsthand the results of their months of hard work and their struggles over the past years of their young lives. Nine young leaders––along with numerous adult supporters and systems leaders––testified on panels addressing education, school discipline policies, juvenile justice, the gang database and gang injunctions, heath, and quality of life. Their stories are strong examples of resistance to entrenched interests, like the Corrections Corporation of America, that are banking on the failure of these young men to survive and thrive. Jose Gallegos, a 23-year-old South Los Angeles resident who organizes with the Labor/Community Strategy Center, epitomized this when he shared his story of disentangling himself from the state’s criminal injustice system: “I refused to accept the justice system’s plan to make me a permanent member of the Prison Industrial Complex.”
L.A.’s brilliant boys and young men of color represent hope and solutions, not just struggles in the face of adversity and oppression. On each panel, in every issue area, at every stage of the hearing, young people and their adult allies presented answers and opportunities to solve the challenges. Panelists shared model alternatives to suspension in our schools, policies to open up pathways of opportunity for undocumented young men and women, and practices that prioritize the health and safety of gay, bisexual and transgender boys and men of color.
I came away with a better understanding of how these young men of color are already leading the way to a future where all can thrive. Now we’re just waiting for all of our state policymakers to catch-up with the Assembly Members who’ve prioritized fully investing in solutions and improving the status of boys and men of color in all of our communities.
Guest blogger Jeremy Lahoud is Executive Director, Californians for Justice.