Book Sample: Boyle Heights High School Students Empowered to Change Their Neighborhood Through the Written Word

A Roosevelt High School Student reads her story at 826LA's book release event for "Like A Shadow Blocking My Light," a collection of stories from 10th grade Roosevelt High School students. Photo by Kris Fortin

Last week, 826LA, a non profit tutoring and writing service for youth, released a collection of stories written by 10th grade Roosevelt High School students to answer the question “What needs to change to generate more justice and equity in Boyle Heights?” In “Like A Shadow Blocking My Light,” the students’ stories deal with the problems teenagers face in growing up in the neighborhood – one student writes about his father abandoning the family, another about the lack of available healthy food sources and still another about a young immigrant’s struggles to adapt in an English-speaking world.

The stories came from a collaboration last fall semester between the students, 826LA tutors, English teacher Gene Dean and history teacher Jorge Lopez. While the stories are extremely personal, they needed to understand themselves before they could understand how they could affect their community, Lopez said at the book release event at Libros Schmibros Lending Library and Used Bookstore in Boyle Heights.

“By you publishing this voice, and your voice being read by many, you yourselves are already partaking in that change and bettering our community and bettering Boyle Heights,” said Lopez.

From a sample of “Like a Shadow,” author Dalia G. writes about how gang activity has affected her life.

- K.F.

Untitled by Dalia G.

I started realizing that gang violence was a big obstacle when I was in sixth grade. Going to school and seeing writing on the wall was just too harsh. When I lived in the neighborhood of  a local gang in the area, I was just ten years old at the time that I saw my first drive by. It was just another normal day, my sister, friends, and I playing in our front yard and on the sidewalk. When I first heard the shots I thought that they were fireworks since July was just around the corner. My friend’s brother was a cop at that time and he showed her the difference between a firework and a gun shot. When she said they they were gunshots we all panicked. I rolled down from the steps so I could cover myself. My sister didn’t realize they were gunshots so she saw everything that occurred. When the car passed by my house all I saw was the guy pointing the gun at my sister while he was driving by. Nothing happened to my sister but once my parents heard the shots they came outside to see if we were okay. It was a very frightening thing because I was little and didn’t really know what to do at that point. I lived in that house for seven years which has been most of my lifetime.

Gang violence is an obstacle because you have a curfew that you need to follow in order to be safe. You have to be aware of your surroundings because you never know what can happen. There are certain things that you can’t do when surrounded by gangs, like protect yourself from them because they can do something really bad to you. You have to be aware of who you hang out with and make sure you are not involved with what those people are involved with. Whether gang violence is or isn’t around you, you need to be concerned about your safety.

Months passed and my family and I moved out of that neighborhood and environment. I moved to a peaceful neighborhood where I can be out at anytime without thinking something bad might happen. Even though I’m in a safer environment I am still concerned about anything happening. Not only am I concerned about myself, but my family and friends as well. Once I’m done with school I am planning to move out of the city because I want to explore a new place.

The book can be purchased at Libros Schmibros Lending Library and Used Bookstore on Mariachi Plaza, at 826LA’s Time Travel Mart in Echo Park, or at the Time Travel Mart’s online store. The book costs $5, and all funds go back to maintaing 826 LA’s  free programing.