If just 1% of Los Angeles County’s Law Enforcement budget (LAPD, LA County Sheriff, Probation Department, courts, LA City Attorney, and County District Attorney) were reallocated to provide resources for youth, L.A. could fund 25,000 youth jobs, 50 youth centers and 500 full-time community intervention/peacebuilders.

Prioritizing “youth opportunities over youth cages” is Kruti Parekh’s mission. She is Youth Justice Coalition’s Program Coordinator. YJC is one of the most important incubators for youth leadership in Los Angeles and is a crucial part of the work to mobilize youth and their allies to bring about change to a system that locks up too many young people, especially from low income communities of color.

Kruti’s “office” is Chuco’s Justice Center, a former factory on the border of South L.A. and Inglewood that houses YJC and its high school which offers vocational training in community organizing. In the room where the youth organizers meet there’s a vivid mural, a dreamscape of Black and Latino unity. Chuco’s is a place of dreams – the dreams of a better tomorrow. But also a place of tragedy. There’s a shrine to the fallen: candles, pictures and offerings honoring the memories of YJC youth lost to violence, over 40 loved ones in the past three years.

The Center is far from the Flushing, New York, neighborhood where Kruti, a daughter of Indian immigrants, grew up, but the danger is familiar. “I was the darkest person in my community for the first 14 years of my life and it was a very violent reality,” she says. She found herself keeping peace even before she realized what she was doing, intervening when her brother was being bullied, her cousins were getting threatened in a knife attack, or later, in New York City, when she saw “a kid trying to mug another kid.”

“My spirit came out of me to do that— and then we rejoined and moved on. It wasn’t a heroic event. It was something that needed to happen.” Now she cites peace builders, youth centers, and jobs as the three priorities of YJC’s LA for Youth Campaign to divert just 1% of City and County funds away from locking kids up and into community programs.

As a college student, Kruti thought she’d become a doctor. But she changed course when she began to work on improving young people’s health through youth work. She discovered an epidemic of injustice. “I realized you couldn’t talk about health and wellness for young people in L.A. without the probation department being right under it, or addressing the juvenile injustice system and police violence.”

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Today she advises, marches with and supports the young people who find their way to Chuco’s. She’s been a part of winning change, including the amendment to city law that protects high school and middle school students from receiving $250 tickets for being late to school and last fall’s passage of the Fair Sentencing for Youth bill, giving some young people who were sentenced as minors to life without parole a chance to resentencing and a parole hearing. “I’m working with young people for all children and young adults to have a better future than prison—or death.”