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Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition: Conversations with a Rising Leader

Q and A with Joaquin Granger

Joaquin Granger is a member of Liberty Hill's Brothers Sons, Selves Coalition, (BSS) a leadership development program for boys and young men of color, now in its sixth year. He is a graduating senior at Augustus Hawkins High School and will be attending Southwest College. In his interview with Liberty Hill below, he mentions the School Climate Bill of Rights, an important policy won by Brothers,Sons, Selves that banned school suspensions in LAUSD for minor behavior infractions. Young men of BSS went to Sacramento and testified in June in support of the Keep Kids in School Act, a bill to eliminate statewide suspensions due to minor behavioral infractions for all kids K-12 and modeled on the pioneering L.A. policy.  
 

Q: What motivates you to be involved?

I’m motivated by my friends and my family because I can see a change in them. When I share what we do in BSS I can see hope in them. They believe that it is possible to make change because of my involvement in Social Justice Learning Institute (SJLI) and the Brothers Sons Selves Coalition. My cousin is now trying to stay involved. He’s 29. He was born in South L.A. He’s started a sports program helping other kids my age and younger stay involved.

What change do you want to make in the world?

Well I used to see the only way to be involved was through sports. They tell you, you have to be a basketball player or an athlete. But you can bring what you learn back to your neighborhood. This experience has taught me that you can make a change. Being involved through dance, music, and activism. Throughout this last year we’ve finished up a long fight for the School Climate Bill of Rights to bring that statewide. So that students of color have a voice and are protected and have an equal chance to succeed.

Last year in the 2015 - 2016 school year we got an increase in spending for Restorative Justice programming in LAUSD. This keeps more students in school. BSS also developed a policy vision that includes 15 policy recommendations that if all were passed would help to create the schools and communities we deserve. We, the young people in the coalition, also developed a policy launchpad decision-making tool that helps us come to agreement about different issues. Because we are nine different organizations and more than 40 different people it can be hard to always have agreement. Our policy launchpad helps us move forward with policy decisions. Recently, we were able to encourage LAUSD to move funding for school climate from discipline department to human services. This is important because of the way students like myself actually interact with programs. It makes them available before any problem happens instead of as a form of a punishment.

Our LAUSD advocacy campaign helped secure funding for 50 Restorative Justice counselor positions and 10 Restorative Justice coordinator positions, which is over $7 million.

What do you want to do in this next chapter of your life?

I want to continue to stay involved and learn about policy and advocacy campaigns that change the material conditions of students in South L.A. I want to continue to stay involved with groups like SJLI and BSS. I want to continue to make connections with other Black and Brown men in college. In the past I was told that I wouldn’t graduate high school, that I wouldn’t make it. But I did. I graduated! I’m entering college and now there are people who say that I won’t finish. But I will!

What are your plans?

I’m going to Southwest College (college named in photo reflects earlier choice) to pursue a dual Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies and Performance Art & Theatre. Next I want to go to California State University at Northridge or Dominguez Hills to finish that degree.

What have you learned?

I’ve learned to focus and to ask for help. Because before I would assume that I had to do it by myself or it wouldn’t get done. In order for something real and significant to change you need a team like BSS behind you.

I also learned how to collaborate with people who seem different from you. In BSS, because we all came from different schools it didn’t feel like we had so much in common. But after time I’ve realized the issues that we have in different communities are similar. There may be an issue that we’ve overcome but that another school or community is still facing. Our lessons can be applied elsewhere.

For instance, I connected with the young people from Inner City Struggle who attend Wilson High School in East Los Angeles. At their school they require students to wear identification cards around their necks, and if they don’t they’re penalized, sometimes even held from going to class. After we met with administrators at my school, Augustus Hawkins High School (AHHS), in South L.A., the school’s leadership secured funding for a Restorative Justice program with a full time Restorative Justice coordinator. Restorative Justice programs create a more positive school environment where students have voice and are heard. These lessons from AHHS could be considered in looking at changes to Wilson High School.

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