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M&W4M&W: Organization Seeks Vibrant, Active & Excited 20-somethings Ready to Go the Distance…for their Community

The last time I wrote a full piece on Community Coalition (CoCo) I was at their election-night viewing party last November. The energy in the room was electric -- from the dancing toddlers all the way up to the dancing retirees. The success of their get-out-the-vote and Prop 30 door-knocking campaigns had provided a powerful counterweight to the Times' declaration that “South L.A.’s zeal for politics [had] faded.”

Even before the celebrations had come to a close that night, Executive Vice President Alberto Retana had invited me to attend an exploratory meeting for an as-yet unborn youth coalition.

They had been successful in reaching high-schoolers and those over age 35, he said. Now, it was time to tap into the 20-somethings and engage them on their needs and aspirations for their communities. They may have been an important voting block for the national election, but a formula for keeping them involved in local politics and causes has proven elusive.

Fast-forward a few months later and South L.A. Roots has arrived.

They will be holding their inaugural mixer this coming Friday, April 12th, from 8 - 11 p.m. at CoCo's headquarters in South L.A.

That's right -- a mixer. Not a meeting.

The idea, says Jennifer Lettsome (one of the organizers), is to have a laid-back event to attract young adults that might not have thought about getting involved in activism for social justice or who had thought about it, but didn't know how to get started.

Talking over the challenge of reaching out to 20-somethings in the area at a planning meeting last Monday, the organizers agreed it can be intimidating for new people looking to wade into the activist world. It isn't necessarily that young people don't care about their communities, but if they are just setting out on their own, they may be busy struggling to chart a path that will allow them to stay afloat financially. Feeling strapped for time, stressed about bills, or realizing their job doesn't have much in the way of opportunities for advancement, they may think they can't squeeze in activism on the side. Or, they may just be skeptical -- unsure that it would change anything for them or their communities anyways.

Moreover, the activist world isn't always as welcoming as it should be. Meetings may be too structured and the vocabulary too obscure for people who aren't well-educated on the issues. Not hearing their needs discussed in a way they understand, they are more likely to feel discouraged than drawn in.

Lettsome herself noted that, before volunteering with CoCo, she knew she cared about social justice, but didn't know the extent to which certain issues were linked to politics or how. Connections with other volunteers (like Qwanchaize Edwards, who heads up the South L.A. Democrats) and the different campaigns CoCo organizes have helped her build her knowledge base. But, she also sought CoCo out because she was looking for a way to be active in her community. She and the other organizers realize not everyone has that kind of focus.

So, they're going to make it easy.

They are inviting young adults who live in, care about, or are curious about the future of South L.A. to stop by this Friday evening for refreshments, music, and non-intimidating activist-oriented fun. While meeting and greeting other attendees, participants will have the opportunity to contribute their ideas to open-ended questions like "Why am I involved?" or "Why am I not involved?" on an interactive "Write it yourself" wall. Other questions will ask participants to complete thoughts (i.e. "Education is...") having to do with the issues South L.A. Roots members hope to address over the coming year, including education, workers' needs, and development (human, personal, youth, or professional).

While the immediate goals are to better understand the aspirations of young people in the area and grow a network of young activists, the timing couldn't be better. Not only is the run-off election for the 9th District just around the corner, but South L.A. is predicted to have an important role in determining the winner of the mayoral race. Given that turn-out for local elections is generally dismal, South L.A. youth have a real opportunity to leave their mark on the races. Moreover, at many community events I attend, I often hear participants say they are desperate to find a way to engage 20-somethings, be it gang-task force meetings, neighborhood council activities, planning meetings, or even Crenshaw Line meetings. If CoCo's South L.A. Roots can tap into that elusive demographic and help them see how and why their engagement is important, they may have a real opportunity to shape the future agenda of L.A.

Need more information. Check out the event here.

Curious about CoCo's very cool LA2050 proposal? Click here.

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