We can’t wait while politicians debate. Young people are being bullied by peers, punished unfairly by schools, profiled by police, and shut out by employers even though the well-being of our society depends on them as future workers, teachers, business owners, artists, innovators and parents. That’s why Liberty Hill is proud to continue Brothers, Sons, Selves—a partnership formed in 2012 by Liberty Hill, The California Endowment and a strong coalition of 12 Los Angeles grassroots community organizations.
The Brothers, Sons, Selves coalition is now a national model for the positive and transformative effect of community organizing on the lives of people affected by injustice. It’s a successful, fast-track social justice campaign led by young men—but its partner organizations and participants are diverse. This coalition-building among grassroots organizations with strong youth leadership programs is also an approach we hope to expand as we re-affirm our commitment to also strengthen the leadership of young women and other specific populations experiencing the layered injustices of racism, economic injustice, sexism and homophobia.
In Los Angeles County, low income and young men of color have the lowest life expectancy rates, highest unemployment rates, fewest high school and college graduates and most murder victims of any demographic group. Liberty Hill believes that there is a new reality ready to be built, a reality that recognizes the potential of this large percentage of our future adult population. The Brothers, Sons, Selves coalition builds leadership skills among its participants by engaging them in advocacy campaigns such as its historic 2013 “School Climate Bill of Rights” resolutions passed by Los Angeles and Long Beach school districts.
Why did President Obama want to meet and thank Brothers, Sons, Selves participants when he visited L.A. in August 2014? Because through their very first campaign, these young activists won a victory that served as a model for a similar effort in San Francisco, a statewide legislative campaign, and even as an example cited by the President’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. They had persuaded school officials to stop suspending students for “willful defiance,” a discredited discipline practice left over from failed “zero tolerance” policies that unfairly targeted African American and Latino young men. The new policy has resulted in a sharp drop in student suspensions, and both school districts are continuing to craft unified policies “to invest in learning, not incarceration.”
The Brothers, Sons, Selves partnership supports coalition organizations through grant investments, leadership development, technical support and alliance-building. Youth participants identify the policy changes to fight for and new practices to support through community-based, participatory research and community organizing. Our young men have been heard by elected officials, government agencies and voters. They have testified before State Senators and Assembly Members, and an honored few have been introduced to and thanked for their work by the President of the United States.
Brothers, Sons, Selves is a coalition of community-based organizations from across Los Angeles County that are organizing and working with African American, Latino and Asian Pacific Islander youth in low income communities to address inequity through grassroots policy campaigns and leadership development. The members of the BSS Coalition are Brotherhood Crusade, Californians for Justice, Children’s Defense Fund California, Community Coalition, Gay/Straight Alliance Network, InnerCity Struggle, Khmer Girls in Action, Labor/Community Strategy Center, the Social Justice Learning Institute, the Weingart East LA YMCA, and Youth Justice Coalition. The BSS Coalition is a strategic partnership of Liberty Hill Foundation and The California Endowment.