From Foster Care to Advocacy

Grand opening of the CYC Los Angeles office

Tiffany Boyd considers herself one of the lucky ones. When she was a child, her mother had a nervous breakdown and Boyd was sent to live with her grandmother. Her six other siblings, however, were not so fortunate. They ended up in the foster care system in group homes and, she says, have suffered as a result.

Although she also had her share of difficult times, Boyd is now dedicated to helping others in the foster care system. She is one of dozens of young people who help other foster care youth through the California Youth Connection, an advocacy organization.

“I am dedicated to this cause,” said the 25-year-old. “It is great to have an organization that allows me to advocate and take what we learn and bring it back to my peers.”

CYC, which has branches in 32 counties across the state, has been instrumental in supporting key legislation affecting foster youth, including the passage of AB 12, which gives youth the option of staying in care until the age of 21. The organization also has worked on bills that help improved education, permanency planning, group home care and Independent Living Program regulations. Through a motion sponsored by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the board approved a five-year agreement between the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and CYC that allows the organization to have an office in Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard.

The office opening was also made possible through the generous support of both the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation and Foster Care Counts in partnership with the DCFS Youth Development Services.

“It is critical that these children receive the support they need into young adulthood,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “CYC offers scholarship advice, college guidance and mental health referrals so that these youth can thrive and become the best they can be.” As part of her advocacy work, Boyd was recently chosen to testify before the state legislature on a bill that would allow foster care youngsters evaluate the system before they leave so that necessary changes can be implemented. She spoke for two minutes and spent the rest of the day “shadowing” House Speaker John Perez.

“We value the voice of foster youth and they should have a say in the policy that affects their lives,” said Joseph Tietz, executive director of CYC.

Boyd can also attest to the challenges of living without parental guidance. For most children in the foster care system, moving on to adulthood can be overwhelming.

At CYC, Boyd said she has received the support she needs, including guidance on how to apply for college for her master’s degree. She hopes to attend California State University, Dominguez Hills in the fall and major in public administration and nonprofit development.

But life often throws her little glitches. When she was selected to go on the trip to Sacramento, she realized she didn’t have the right clothing. She could only turn to her mother, who has struggled with mental illness all of her life.

“My mom had to pawn her necklace and then take me to the thrift store so I could buy my clothes,” said Boyd. “It takes a certain level of confidence to ask others that are not family.”

In June, she is planning on visiting Washington DC with CYC.

“I used to be a young lady who was going, ‘why me?’” she said with a smile. “Now I say, ‘why not me?’”

Get Ready to J.A.M. in Willowbrook

Once a month, from now through July, people of all ages are invited to move and groove to tunes from Bahia in Brazil, India, Africa and Cuba at Ted Watkins Memorial Park in Willowbrook courtesy of the Ford Theater Foundation’s Jazzed and Motivated dance sessions.

Back by popular demand, the Ford’s J.A.M. sessions will return to Willowbrook Saturday, May 18 starting at 10:30 a.m. with an all new line up of salsa music, samba beats and music to get the body moving.

“We established a great relationship with the Watts-Willowbrook community and we are so excited to be coming back again this year,” Jennifer Fukutomi, Production Coordinator of the Ford Theatre Foundation.  “Last year we partnered with the MLK Comprehensive Outpatient Center and we held eight J.A.M. sessions on the front lawn.  It was great to see the space transformed from a place where people go to get medicine to a place where people engage in art together.”

The event Saturday will begin with samba classes by Viver Brasil, an Afro-Brazilian dance company, followed by a Bollywood session on June 22 and classes from urban Latin dance theater company, CONTRA-TIEMPO on July 20.

J.A.M. Sessions have been taking place on the Ford Amphitheatre stage in Los Angeles since 2008. Thanks to a generous grant from Metabolic Studio, the program was expanded in 2012, reaching close to 10,000 Los Angles County residents. This year, thanks to the James Irvine Foundation, a private, nonprofit grant making foundation, J.A.M. Sessions will once again be available to communities throughout the county.

For more information about the Jazzed and Motivated Sessions, please visit: or call: (323) 461-3673.


[untitled_box]Jazzed & Motivated- Samba Dance Party

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Time: 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. & 12:45 p.m. The day starts with a health walk in Willowbrook leading to the Ted Watkins Park where from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. there will be a Resource Fair, Farmer’s Market, healthy cooking demonstrations, gift certificates for fresh produce, work-outs and three half-hour J.A.M. Sessions where participants will learn the Brazilian samba.


Jazzed & Motivated -Bollywood session                              

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Time: 9:30 a.m.

Participants will discover the joyous sounds and movements that have made the films fromIndia’s cinema center,Bombay, so popular. Members of Blue13 Dance Company will teach Bollywood and Bhangra styles.


Jazzed and Motivated -Stepping & Afro-Cuban salsa session                          

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Time: 5:30 p.m.

Part of the Parks After Dark Concert program.  Arrive before the concert and learn to use your entire body as a percussive instrument as you dance the night away. Using a mixture of footsteps and hand claps, CONTRA-TIEMPO dancers will lead participants through social dances set to irresistible Afro-Cuban rhythms and sounds.

Ted Watkins Memorial Park
1335 E. 103rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90002


Surfing Legend to be Honored at Beach Celebration


African Americans at the beach 1930's Los Angeles

Nick Gabaldon, said to be the first known California surfer of African American and Mexican descent, would stop at nothing to catch a good wave.  But growing up in Santa Monica in the 1940s, Gabaldon was not welcome at most of Southern California’s beaches because of his race. And yet, he refused to  be daunted—when he didn’t have a car to get from Santa Monica to Malibu to surf, he paddled the 12 miles north to get there.

Gabaldon’s life and the trail he blazed in surfing, will be celebrated at Santa Monica beach on June 1 with free surf lessons and other activities including a welcome ceremony with surfers paddling out to sea, free admission of the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium and a special children’s story time.   Sponsored by Heal the Bay’s Heal the Bay Aquarium, the Black Surfers Collective and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas,  The  Nick Gabaldon Day event, which begins at 9 a.m. and continues through the late afternoon, will also include a screening of the documentary 12 Miles North: The Nick Gabaldon Story at Heal the Bay’s Aquarium at 1.45 p.m. and 4.15 p.m. Dozens of youngsters from the Watts/Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club also will be attending the event as well–many of whom will be visiting the beach for the first time.

“Nick Gabaldon’s story is not one of just a surfer,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “It is about a man who refused to be held back by limitations imposed on him. He was determined to live his life to the fullest and paved the way for generations of young people  to follow in his footsteps .”

Gabaldon’s passion, athleticism and love of the ocean were  par for the course for California surfers, but the past-time wasn’t readily available to nonwhites in the 1940’s, a story chronicled in the documentary Whitewash. Whitewash, which will be shown at 2:45 p.m. at the event and explores the complexity of race in America through the struggle and triumph of black surfers.

“Even if they had access to the regional beaches, a desire to pursue surfing and the financial means to purchase the necessary equipment,  non-whites would have needed courage and dedication to be a participant in this particular, small surfing group that was associated with white Southern Californians and people of the South Pacific,” said Alison Rose Jefferson, a doctoral candidate in Public History/American History at University of California, Santa Barbara and a historic preservation consultant who helped coordinate the event.  “Although he experienced a common bond in the water among the surfing community, prejudice was not far away on land in the U.S. or in the ocean.”

The  Inkwell, as it was called by some, was a derogatory term referencing the “blackness” of the beach-goers’ skin color and it was the popular beach hangout for African Americans during the nation’s Jim Crow era, from the 1900s to 1960s.  In 2007 the City of Santa Monica officially recognized the Inkwell and Gabaldon for their cultural significance in local, California and American history.

Many who came after him have found his story inspirational.

“We didn’t have many black surfing role models,” said Rick Blocker, founder of the website,, who commissioned a painting of Gabaldon that will be unveiled June 1. “He is someone, like myself, who lived a dream that is outside of convention. I was introduced to the ocean and I really loved surfing. I found my passion in it and when I heard about Nick, the obstacles that he had to overcome were much greater. He was undaunted in his desire to surf.”

Gabaldon died in 1951 , doing what he loved; while riding a wave , he collided with the pilings on the Malibu pier. His  legacy and  impact on local surfing culture , however, has endured.

Kai Barger, world pro junior surf champion featured in 12 Miles North: the Nick Gabaldon Story, that Gabaldon’s story serves as an example for people facing any disadvantage or challenge of what can be accomplished with enough determination.

“The guys were doing it ahead of me gave me the motivation and drive to do it,” he said.

For more information:


New Health Center at Washington Prep.

The Wellness Center at Washington Prep

Los Angeles Lakers’ defender Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest) brought an exuberant crowd of more than 900 Washington Preparatory High School students to their feet recently as he walked his towering frame to the front of their auditorium and stood behind the podium. As he began speaking,  however, the audience quieted down and sat in rapt attention.  He spoke of life, its challenges and the importance of seeking knowing they are not alone.

“Every morning you should wake up and ask yourself, ‘Am I on the path to reaching my goals?’ If not, you have to ask yourself some questions,” he said. “It is important that you overcome your difficulties.”

The basketball star came to the West Athens high school for a heart to heart talk with students about mental illness. The Lakers’ defender shared how he has persevered through his own hardships, including his parent’s divorce, living in the projects, overcoming depression and anger issues.  Getting help and “having somebody in your court,” is essential, he told the teens. Peace was there to celebrate the opening of the Wellness Center at  Washington Prep High School, an on-campus healthcare facility where students and the community at-large can receive dental, vision, mental  and physical healthcare.
The facility, which will be run in partnership with St. John’s Well Child & Family Center and opens to the public April 26, will also provide assistance with health insurance enrollment. It is one of 12 new school based health centers that have opened in the Second District and a model for the way healthcare can be delivered with schools acting as community hubs.  Opening school based health centers has been a top priority for Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who secured more than $300,000 in county funds to help open the Washington Prep Center.  Studies have shown that schools with health centers have higher student attendance and less truancy.

In many neighborhoods and communities throughout the district, chronic health conditions such as childhood obesity, asthma and mental health disorders, are significantly higher than in other parts of the county.  Chairman Ridley-Thomas pledged to expand health care in the district when he took office in 2008, and he has since partnered with the Los Angeles Unified School District, Compton Unified School District and community health clinics to open these centers.

“There is no shame in trying to get help when you are feeling bad,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas to the students. “The wellness center is going to be your resource. We are taking mental health challenges out of the closet. It is hard to succeed when these needs are not addressed.”

With more than 34 percent unemployment in the surrounding Watts/West Athens area and nearly a quarter of the student body in foster care, many Washington Prep students live with stress and may need mental health treatment but either cannot afford it or may feel wary about asking for it.  But at the Wellness Center, Los Angeles Unified School District mental health professionals will offer therapy, mental health consultations for individuals and families, conflict mediation, crisis intervention and psychological first aid in a convenient and confidential way.

Students at Washington Prep

“This connects the school community to much needed resources,” said Washington Prep Principal Todd Ullah. “Mental and physical health are paramount to learning.” Jacqueline Zendejas, a senior at Washington Prep, said she would like to study to become a registered nurse. Instead of missing a whole day of school to get to a doctor or dentist appointment, the center will allow students to take care of themselves in a convenient way, she said.

“I cannot explain the happiness this center will bring,” said Zendejas, who hopes to be accepted into Cal State Monterey Bay. “This will make life a lot better for students and for parents as well.”

Season for Nonviolence Vigil

Gathering at the top of the beautiful Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook for a candlelight vigil hosted by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, more than 200 people, including Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and civil  rights leader Rev. James Lawson reflected on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death on April 4, 1968. The tribute, which took place at twilight, also marked the end of the Season for nonviolence and served as a statement of hope and against all forms of violence.

“Hold your candle high against domestic violence, against elder abuse, against child abuse, against gun violence,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas as the crowd, overlooking the  city lights below, raised their candles in unity. “We hold our candles high against all forms of violence.

“I echo Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words when he stated that nonviolence requires courage, intelligence and perseverance,” the Supervisor said, adding that Gandhi taught that “nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”

The “Season for Nonviolence,” which was established by the grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi, Arun Gandhi, is a yearly event celebrating the philosophies and the two legendary practitioners of nonviolence: Gandhi and King. The “Season” begins with the anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, and it ends April 4, on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.

Although the Season is only in its 15th year, it has been growing as a meaningful observance of the teachings of these great men. It is anchored by a mission, statement of principles and commitments by participants towards living in a nonviolent way.

Tanisha Denard of the Youth Justice Coalition, an advocacy group for incarcerated youth and their families, spoke  movingly of the need for all young people to be given a chance at a good education, at a job and self dignity. She noted that while California ranks high among other states in spending for prisons, it ranks near the bottom in educational spending.  The violence perpetrated by young people is symptomatic of their hopelessness, she said.

“We want to see youth centers and jobs,” she said.

In recent months, particularly after the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut,  people across the nation have become increasingly aware of the havoc wreaked on our society by violence—especially gun violence. According to statistics, Americans are seven times more likely to die of homicides and 20 times more likely to die from shootings than their peers in comparable countries. On average, 32 people are murdered every day in the United States. About 100,000 Americans are shot or killed with a gun every year and 20,000 of those Americans are children and teens.

The  Rev. James Lawson, who studied the works of Gandhi, marched beside Martin Luther King and was there on the fateful day in Memphis when he was killed, urged a listeners to engage in a continuing “march” against violence.

“Gandhi left us a tremendous heritage when he told us to show our love in action and practice,” said Lawson. “You and I have the continuing task of helping this culture. We must continue to fight to dismantle this love of the gun and this mistrust of people. There cannot be a nation of peace until we are a nation of justice.”