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LA VOice Pico

 Byline: Rachel Kattler-Kupetz

About a week ago, Liberty Hill grantee group LA Voice PICO hosted a community meeting at Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood. As an intern at Liberty Hill, I attended the meeting because I was interested in witnessing the grassroots community building supported by Liberty Hill in action.

LA Voice PICO, an umbrella activist organization that focuses on bettering Los Angeles through community outreach, brought its members together for a meeting on public education and promoting change within schools to create positive change in neighborhoods.

Through parent testimonies and a question and answer session with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the meeting aimed to voice concern regarding flaws in the public school system felt by education activists and parents with children enrolled in public school. Roughly 125 Angelenos from congregations of various religious faiths joined together to listen and speak on behalf of bettering Los Angeles public education and implementing change within the school system.

Yolanda Brown, pastoral associate at Blessed Sacrament Church, introduced the meeting by stating that we’re “here to listen and learn from one another.” The community emphasis LA Voice Pico highlights through its work was tangible. For example, when the Mayor was a bit late to arrive, those present were encouraged to turn to the person next to them and introduce themselves. When I turned to my left, I met Gail Craven, an elementary school teacher from the San Fernando Valley who had heard about the meeting via email and decided to attend to hear “what [Mayor Villaraigosa] has to say on education.” Accompanying Gail was her father, who had been one of Mayor Villaraigosa’s high school teachers. Villaraigosa gave him a shout-out during the meeting and thanked the teacher for his encouragement and support during high school.

Through the use of English-to-Spanish translation headsets and with speakers alternating between Spanish and English, the diversity that defines Los Angeles was evident. The group's embrace of that diversity spoke directly to LA Voice’s mission, which aims to transform Los Angeles into a city that positively reflects its diverse make-up and collection of cultures.

 The meeting began with a faith reflection from Rabbi Ron Stern of Stephen S. Wise Temple. He ended his words with a challenge: “Raise your hands if you’re ready to work to make a difference.”  Even with the translation head-set delay, every hand in the room went up.

Testimonies from three parents followed, two of whom spoke about their personal struggles regarding their child’s public education experience, with specific examples such as overcrowded classrooms and lack of resources for high achieving students. A third parent shared her successful efforts to turn her daughter’s elementary school into a charter school, and her recent choice to send her daughter to a private middle school due to the poor status of their local public middle school.

Mayor Villaraigosa spoke about the importance and necessity of putting money into L.A.’s school system. He voiced support for charter schools and the need to reduce the number of failing schools throughout the city.  The Mayor also stated that Los Angeles is in need of a movement towards a culture that promotes parental involvement in schools. He identified parental support as an imperative aspect of the process of improving public education.

The meeting came to a close with a prayer in Spanish led by Father Margarito Martinez, followed by the excitement of many attendees, including myself, at the chance to take pictures and speak with Mayor Villaraigosa. 534527_10150643656387982_19323467981_9421695_75293854_n

I left the meeting feeling motivated and inspired by the various speeches and testimonies I heard. It was clear that the parents present are willing to fight to no end for change, while the Mayor sympathetically supported and heard their claims, and promised to fight right alongside the parents. The grassroots activism I hoped to see was undoubtedly present in the words and actions of the community members in attendance.