Hundreds of minority teens gathered on the steps of the state Capitol Monday to urge lawmakers to help improve their communities and relations with law enforcement.
The annual Free Our Dreams Summit, funded by The California Endowment, saw about 450 teens from throughout California come together for a weekend of workshops at UC Davis.
Monday’s day of advocacy at the Capitol was its culmination. The multi-ethnic crowd drummed, chanted, held signs and spoke about issues affecting their communities. Afterward, youth leaders went to more than 100 legislative offices to meet their representatives.
At 10 a.m., the teens attended a hearing of the state Assembly’s Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color, where they testified and urged policymakers to pass legislation to enhance police accountability, end the criminalization of youth and promote safe and successful schools.
Luis Sanchez, the coordinator for the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, said: “There is a sense of frustration among these youth leaders that their generation has inherited all of these issues, and that if they don’t take on this fight, no one will.”
The activists advocated for the passage of several bills including AB 2792 – the so-called TRUTH Act, which requires community engagement prior to local law enforcement participation with federal deportation programs – and SB 1143, a bill limiting the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in state and local facilities.
After attending the hearing, youth leaders marched around the Capitol building, holding up signs and waving flags. At the west steps of the Capitol, teens from Santa Ana, Coachella, and Long Beach spoke about issues affecting their communities.
Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, and Assemblyman Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr., D-Los Angeles, spoke at the rally to explain the Committee’s work to improve outcomes for Cailfornia’s minority youth.
“Today is about allowing and cultivating the youth voice and making it sing, and having it be heard in the halls of power, where the legislative policy decisions are being made,” Bonta said.
Natalie Pin, from Long Beach, said: “Growing up, it was really hard for me to put my voice out there. I almost felt like my voice didn’t matter. So, being here at this conference, I feel like I am important. My voice matters.”
The youth participants – from diverse communities including Sacramento, Coachella, Santa Ana, Long Beach, Stockton and others – were connected by organizations, nonprofits, and initiatives such as the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, The California Endowment and Sacramento Building Healthy Communities.
This year’s event was especially well attended, organizers said.
“We’ve been doing this for a few years, but we’ve never seen this kind of energy,” said Daniel Zingale, with The California Endowment. “It’s been so hard for young people to see how civic participation is relevant to their lives, but the way this presidential election season has unfolded has really affected the youth leaders. They’ve been hearing proposed policies that will have direct influences on their families and their lives.”
Luis Ramirez, a teen from Oakland, agreed.
“Now with the election and all the things that are being said, I think this is the time to do something,” he said. “I think this is history, in a way. It won’t be in history books, but it’s something that we can tell our children.”
Jermaine Willis, 18, a Sacramento resident affiliated with the AlTeliance for Boys and Men of Color, said:
“I just want peace. I want all people to be able to say, ‘I’m comfortable to be in America. I’m not afraid to talk to the police. I’m not afraid to interact with Donald Trump.’ If more people put more effort into building communities, America would be a better place. It’s not that hard.”
Emily King: 916-321-1038