Youth from across Los Angeles gather for LA Youth for Environmental Justice Forum

On Saturday June 30th 2018, USC Environmental Health Centers, Community Engagement Program on Health and Environment, hosted the Los Angeles Youth for Environmental Justice (#LAYouth4EJ) Forum to highlight and center the work of youth in the forefront of the environmental justice movement. The forum celebrated young people who are visioning and organizing for safe, healthy and just communities where we can all play, study, live and thrive!

Presenters at the #LAYouth4EJ Forum 2018

The forum brought together over thirty-five youth organizers from six different neighborhoods addressing Los Angeles most pressing environmental health issues.

Participants came from South Central Los Angeles, Alhambra, South East LA and the Harbor area, where they are organizing to protect the health and safety of their communities on the frontlines of the dangers of exposure to environmental hazards.

Youth panelists speak about environmental justice in their communities.

The day began with a youth panel on youth organizing moderated by Angelica Romero, from Youth Policy Institute and an advisor/mentor for the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition. The panel of youth leaders discussed the ways that they are fighting for environmental justice in their respective communities.

The youth panel was followed by presentations by 10 youth who participated in the Day in the Life program that was organized by USC Environmental Health Centers. “A Day in the Life” is a community-based media program that brings visibility to the stories of youth of color living and organizing in four Los Angeles communities that experience a variety of environmental & pollution impacts. Participants used multimedia to document what they saw and experienced during the course of their daily lives while monitoring air pollution in their respective communities.

“I decided to join this project because I was able to describe my story and show myself how affected I am by pollution. It is important to me because I want to share my story to open the eyes of others. Where I live, not a lot of people know there is an oil-drilling site. People don’t question their surrounding, they should know it is bad for their health,” said Ashley Lazaro, age 17 of South Central Youth Leadership Coalition.

To read the full report on the “A Day in the Life” youth panel discussion and program click here. Fore more details about the Day in the Life program, click here.  To view “A Day in the Life” presentations visit our Facebook page and view the video here.

Legacy LA organizers and members host an interactive Jenga game.
Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma members share about their work.
Ni Santas Collective live silkscreens t-shirts.

After a morning spent hearing from youth, the event concluded outdoors with lunch, activity booths and raffle prizes. Activity booths included staff and youth from Legacy LA who hosted an educational Jenga game around the topics of environmental and educational justice, Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma presented a poster and related activity sharing their programs to improve the lives of children with asthma, and South Central Youth Leadership Coalition brought a human size Connect Four game. A favorite activity was the live silk-screening activity hosted by local art collective Ni Santas, where participants had the opportunity to silkscreen a USC Environmental Health Centers shirt. The event concluded with prizes raffled off to participants.

USC would like to thank all participating students, organizations, mentors and interns for these efforts in making this event possible. Participating organizations included: Communities for A Better Environment, Legacy LA, Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma, Promoting Youth Advocacy/APIFM, South Central Youth Leadership Coalition and LA Grit Media.

Diving Deeper: Youth Voices from the Environmental Justice Discussion Panel

Environmental justice communities are at greater risk of the dangers of exposure to environmental hazards. The following quotes are the words and experiences of young leaders organizing against environmental injustices in their communities. These are their stories.

“We don’t have clean water in Maywood, we are also impacted by Exide [lead smelter] and lead contamination, and we have a lack of clean air and bad environment in general. You see a lot of environmental racism, which is why I got involved. Attending meetings at Communities for a Better Environment have lead me to see everything that is going on,” said Veronica Ayala, Youth in Action (CBE).

Leslie Aguilar, age 17 of South Central Youth Leadership Coalition shared about her participation in STAND-L.A., a coalition of Los Angeles community groups dedicated to protecting public health from neighborhood oil drilling. “We petitioned to get a buffer from the distance of oil drilling sites and our homes, we did air monitoring in the community with Jill Johnston (USC) and other people to see how badly the oil drilling has been affecting our communities and the houses around us. We found out that houses near the oil drilling sites are the most affected. This is important for me because we need to improve our communities, so in the future we wouldn’t have oil drilling sites or things that can be harmful.”

Panelists shared a vision for transforming their communities into healthy environments and with that a sense of responsibility to protect their communities, especially as young people. “A lot people in my community are immigrants, they are afraid of saying what is actually happening because they fear of their wellbeing. I think it is up to the youth to speak up and be their voices,” said Veronica Ayala, resident and organizer in Southeast LA.

Panelists motivated and inspired their peers in the crowd, by emphasizing the importance of youth organizations and investment in youth programming. Susana Rodriguez, resident and organizer in Lincoln Heights highlights her advocacy efforts with Legacy LA to create a youth development department in Los Angeles, “There are 800,000 youth ages 10-24 living in Los Angeles and our city only spends $75 per youth every year. We researched other large cities like New York and San Francisco who have youth development departments and resulted in the LA youth council to create our own youth budget. If we have a youth development department we will be saving so many youths lives.”

This panel discussion video is available on our Facebook page here.

To stay engaged, follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.