Summer in southern California is synonymous with going to the beach. But for many Angelenos living in urban communities, taking part in this summer ritual isn't easy. Parks Now, a coalition of experts, activists and community leaders, teamed up with a group of San Fernando Valley teenagers from Youth Speak Collective, as well as Senate President pro Tem Kevin de Leon, to see what it's really like for these Los Angeles natives to take a trip to the beach.
The video follows 17-year-old Dan Hernandez departing from Mission Hills, and 20-year-old Nuvia Jara, who departs from Calabasas. While Nuvia's 20-mile ride to Zuma Beach using the Calabasas Beach Bus, a service provided by the city, takes her under 45 minutes, Dan's 20-mile trek to Will Rogers State Beach requires two buses and nearly as many hours.
"No matter where you live, every Angeleno should be able to enjoy the quintessential California experience that is going to the beach," said Senator Kevin de Leon, who is currently sponsoring legislation that would increase resources for urban neighborhood parks. "Transportation is a critical issue as we think about how to ensure our recreational spaces serve the needs of a more diverse and a more urban California."
The video documents just one of the many challenges that face California's parks. The Parks Forward Commission identifies transportation to parks as a key obstacle that uniquely affects low-income urban communities. Recommended are more readily available and affordable options, though meaningful movement on this issue has yet to be seen.
While cities like Moorpark and Thousand Oaks also provide their residents with services like the Calabasas Beach Bus, the city of Los Angeles is moving in the opposite direction, considering cuts to bus routes that take riders to the beach. Groups like Parks Now are working to raise awareness of the issue, and to call on leaders to take meaningful action towards making California's parks increasingly diverse and inclusive spaces.
Musicians from East Los Angeles have a long tradition of using their talents to draw attention to complex social and political issues. Last year, Las Cafeteras, an Afro-Mexican inspired band dedicated to community issues released a politically charged cover of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" on Independence Day. Fellow East Los Angeles band, La Santa Cecilia, accepted a Grammy last year for best Latin rock or alternative recording, and dedicated their win to "the more than 11 million undocumented people that live and work really hard in this country, and that still need to lead a more dignified life."
Another East Los Angeles band that boasts a long history of social involvement is Quetzal, a Grammy-winning act known for churning out an eclectic mix of Mexican and Afro-Cuban rhythms. This isn't a novel concept: seeing well known entertainers taking on social and political issues affecting their fellow Americans. However, Quetzal's latest venture into the socio-political world is of a different kind - it's hyper-localized.
Quetzal is taking on the issue of equitable school funding in Los Angeles, seeking to ensure that east side schools get an appropriate amount of funding that reflects the needs of the students in that community. Under new requirements passed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2013, California school districts should expect to receive additional funding for high-need students, and increased flexibility on how to spend those resources. Parents and students from underserved communities like Boyle Heights, on the city's east side, are pushing school officials to put schools on equal footing by increasing access to guidance counselors and mental health services in communities that need them the most. They want to ensure that their voices are heard and their children get those resources necessary for a quality education. Quetzal has joined this call for better student services in response to the recent legislation. With a new song and music video that brings greater attention to the deficits facing schools in Boyle Heights, Quetzal urges that school officials direct funding accordingly.
Perhaps the best part about Quetzal's song is that they didn't write it. Well, not alone at least.
The song, entitled "Lights On," was co-written with a group of Boyle Heights community members, including students, parents, and teachers. Every single lyric is the product of a collaborative effort between the Grammy-winning artists and the community members who live with the realities of inequitable school funding every day. The song reflects concerns over accountability of how new funding resources will be used, and a desire to see those resources directed toward direct student services. These issues were discussed extensively in community meetings, which culminated in a song-writing session and the filming of the music video. The video itself even features local parents and students, highlighting real community members that stand to benefit from a greater allocation of funds.
In the city known round the world as the mecca of entertainment, "Lights On" gives mundane school policy and funding issues the star treatment. The music video also kicks off a grassroots advocacy campaign, led by the Boyle Heights Building Healthy Communities project, to ask for greater educational resources for their community as Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board members prepare for a June review of next year's budget.
These recent changes to education funding policy give LAUSD additional funds for every high-need student in the district. High-need students are defined as students who are low-income, English-language learners or who have learning disabilities. Since a large percentage of east side students meet one or more of these requirements for additional funding, Boyle Heights residents will continue fighting to make sure the school board follows through on allocating these dollars to the students who need them most.
Hopefully, their requests will prove as catchy as their...
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