Photos by M. Smith
LONG BEACH, Calif. — On Friday, Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) – Long Beach in partnership with VoiceWaves youth media held their event, Pass the Mic, featuring youth-led presentations for the public to learn more about flaws in the juvenile justice system and problem gambling.
About 50 Long Beach residents attended the event held at St. Luke’s Episcopal church in Central Long Beach not far from YLI’s main office.
The three-hour event came at a time of heightened community concern prompted by recent student fighting and gang issues nearby Poly High School. Youth involvement in the justice system was not unheard of before, but after the event, the audience was introduced more to local youth’s point of view on the matter.
“Young people really care about community,” said Joy Yanga, an attendee and organizer with Khmer Girls in Action. “They are trying to change the system for something loving and that develops youth leadership.”
Juvenile justice was a major theme for the night. YLI youth had spent the past months working on a mini-documentary and youth surveys on juvenile justice involvement in Long Beach as part of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative.
“[It’s] a way out for young men of color to escape incarceration through better opportunities and prospects like after school clubs or jobs instead of being suspended or punished for their crimes,” said youth participant Alvin Engo.
Engo, alongside his peer Benyamin Chao, presented the public with data obtained from about 200 surveys taken by Long Beach youth. Some survey findings included:
- 1 in every three youth “NEVER” talk to anyone about their emotions.
- When experiencing extreme stress or trauma, half of the participants reported having no supportive people or places to go to or “very few places but not enough.”
- Those surveyed cited “Having a supportive family” as the top way to prevent youth from getting involved in the criminal justice system.
Second district councilmember Jeannine Pearce also gave an impromptu speech at the event, sharing her personal experience growing up in Pasadena, Texas, where she said there was nothing to do for kids but get caught up in mischief and drugs. She encouraged the youth organizers of the event to continue spreading their message for change.
Watching the youth presentations, the audience was able to see the harsh realities some youth involved in the juvenile justice system face and became visually sympathetic, shaking their heads in disbelief or whispering among each other when presented with survey results.
To tie it all together, the youth’s mini-documentary project on juvenile justice was screened for the first time. The mini-documentary followed the stories of various Long Beach youths directly affected by hostile police encounters, gang interactions, and school climate issues. Part of the film included a personal interview between YLI’s very own youth reporter and his uncle, who was in his youth a gang-affiliated student at Wilson High School.
The event closed with a panel featuring Dawn Modkins from Black Lives Matter Long Beach and her son, as well as youth activists Mac Harris and Kelly Chincilla from a local Invest in Youth campaign. Each person brought their own views and experiences on juvenile justice to the table, and while no answer was the same, all agreed something had to be done.
“This panel served as a reminder that youth matter,” said Harris. “We need to stop second guessing what youth can do and realize that knowledge is not restricted by age.”
“I feel like I connected, it’s youth talking about youth and it means a lot more this way,” said Adrian Arias, a youth in attendance at the event, suggesting that having topics presented by those directly affected is a great way to reach an intended audience.
Another youth campaign presented was Betting On Our Future (BOOF). BOOF is a YLI youth-led project to prevent youth from engaging in gambling, and to provide resources and education about problem gambling.
Youth involved in the project showcased what their campaign was about, their outreach to educate merchants, displayed posters and screened two PSA’s.
62% of California youth have gambled and the average age of a new youth gambler is 11 years old, one of their videos highlighted.
Throughout their presentation, youth allowed for audience participation through a few interactive online polls asking attendees whether they ever had firsthand experience gambling and pop quizzed them if they knew what was the legal age to purchase and cash a lottery ticket.
Almost all the attendees gambled at least once, and while the majority voted 21 as the legal age, the correct answer was actually 18.
The event closed at 9 p.m. but the efforts of everyone involved did not end there.
“Long Beach needs all these different organizations who work with people trying to do something so this doesn’t keep happening,” said Montzerrat Garcia Bedolla, YLI program manager, referring to ongoing juvenile justice and gambling issues in Long Beach.
Bedolla also said that there are many more things residents can continue doing to help the community even after the event: Joining VoiceWaves, keeping up with Youth Leadership Institute on social media, and having these conversations with family are all different options available to anyone.
“We need to continue to make Long Beach a place invested in youth,” said Bedolla.
You can watch the BOOF PSA’s here:
The mini-documentary will be available online Friday.