Education, Arts & Culture

Get Lit: inspiring high school students to read, write, and speak up

Several hundred high school students recently filled the Animo Inglewood Charter High School auditorium, talking, laughing, and chatting with friends. Then the Get Lit Players took the stage:

“We are a troupe of poetic youth tied to classic roots… With words to illuminate the dark,” chanted the six members of the teen poetry troupe, and the auditorium fell silent.

For the next two hours, in ones and twos, poets from the ages of 15 to 18, recited words of hope, understanding and respect to the high school students listening with rapt attention.[fancy_box] Get Lit performs at El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera. Video courtesy of Get Lit Staff.[/fancy_box]

The Get Lit Players, who perform in schools across Los Angeles, delivered poems in a blitz-like fashion, wielding their hip-hop verbal skills in rapid-fire attacks. From comical topics to serious ones, their original works bore witness to subjects such as relationship heartbreak and the pressure from parents to be perfect. Then they changed gears and brought to life works by renowned poets such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Walt Whitman, and Langston Hughes.

Troupe members say their mission is to encourage teens to read, write and participate in the arts by connecting the emotions and experiences expressed by celebrated poets with the struggles of young people today. Freshman Brandon Estrada, 14, said the troupe connected with him. “I realized I was buried and forgotten and after watching the performance I feel as though I’ve been resurrected,” he said. “I can be great in life…it’s in my grasp.”

Regine Rhine, 17, a budding poet and member of the Amino High School Poetry Slam team, found the Get Lit performance inspirational – and a bit daunting. Her poetry team will be competing against the troupe next month in a citywide youth poetry event, called the Classic Slam. She too feels at home on a stage, reciting poetry to her peers. “Poetry is a profound way of expressing myself and letting people see another side of me,” she said. Get Lit Player and performer, Junior Herrara, 18, agreed. The East Los Angeles City College student said poetry provides an outlet for self expression like no other.

“It not only let’s me explore realms of myself I did not know existed, it also lets me share and teach my life lessons with others,” he said.

Get Lit’s Classic Slam, will take place at the Wiltern Theater, in Los Angeles on April 28th at 7 PM and showcase blitz-like performances from high school poets from across Los Angeles.

Founded in 2005, in Los Angeles, Get Lit is a non-profit organization offering literary performance training, education, and teen poetry programs. Programs are designed to boost literacy and encourage creative self-expression. By immersing teens in the world of great books, Get Lit equips students for future success in college and the workplace, building concise writing skills, dynamic public speaking abilities and the foundation for lifelong self-confidence. To date, Get Lit has performed before more than 15,000 teens in more than 45 high schools.

For more information on Get Lit, click here to visit their website.

Education in Los Angeles: School system or prison system?

Los Angeles County Office of Education Superintendent Arturo Delgado and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in a classroom at the Harris County Youth Village.

Los Angeles County Office of Education Superintendent Arturo Delgado and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in a classroom at the Harris County Youth Village.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) Superintendent Arturo Delgado visited classrooms in Houston, Texas’ juvenile detention facilities Thursday (Feb.16) in an ongoing effort to study innovative programs that may be models for reforming education in Los Angeles’ youth camps and halls.

Los Angeles County’s youth probation system is currently being monitored by the U.S. Dept. of Justice due to dangerous conditions in the camps, and the county in 2010 settled a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging the failure to provide a constitutionally adequate education to youths at the Challenger Camp in Lancaster.  Under the settlement terms, LACOE and the Probation Dept. are now working to improve education at Challenger Camp.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, however, believes schooling in the county’s youth probation facilities is in urgent need of an overhaul. “There are bright spots in our camps due to the above-and-beyond effort of many dedicated Probation and LACOE staffers; but as a whole our system needs to look and act more like a school system than a prison system,” Ridley-Thomas said, “we have a long way to go.”

A math teacher in the Harris County Youth Village uses a multimedia “smart board” to instruct a student preparing for the GED exam.

In Houston, Delgado and Ridley-Thomas visited the Harris County Youth Village, where boys and girls in custody attend classes in a dedicated school building. Along with class sizes typically smaller than ten students, youths in custody are taught using contemporary technology – students use laptop computers in the classrooms and each room features a “smart board” multimedia blackboard.

More than 80% of students who take the GED high school equivalency exam in custody pass the test and move on to a local community college. The Youth Village also uses a computer-guided reading program being studied for use in Los Angeles County. Along with academic innovations, youths in custody participate in a student government that meets weekly to manage their residential life.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas had previously visited the Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings, a revolutionary school program serving Washington, D.C.’s juveniles in custody.

Both the Harris County probation schools and Washington, D.C.’s probation schools teach students using the “Freedom Schools” model developed by the Children’s Defense Fund. Freedom Schools promote reading and self-esteem through an academically rigorous curriculum that also stresses civic engagement and social action. Outside of probation camps, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has brought Freedom Schools summer programs to churches and community centers in the Second District, serving more than 500 students to date.

“The best practices in classrooms outside the locked gates of probation camps need to be brought inside,” Ridley-Thomas said. “A new LACOE superintendent, Arturo Delgado, and a new Chief Probation Officer, Jerry Powers, are on board, and they are eager to make the changes we need to make sure our youths use their time in custody to move ahead as students, not fall behind as prisoners,” he said.

The Pan African Film Festival – Celebrating 20 years in Los Angeles

Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills, part of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in Los Angeles, hosted the 2012 Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) this year from February 9-20. This year, the annual festival celebrates its 20th Anniversary with a dynamic line-up of screenings, special guests, and surprises. For nearly two weeks audiences explored the lives of people of African descent through the eyes of Black filmmakers from the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, South America, the South Pacific, Europe and Canada. In total, more than 130 films made by or about people of African descent were screened. The festival kicked off Thursday night with the much anticipated movie “Think Like a Man” based on the book and New York Times Bestseller Think Like a Man, Act Like a Lady by radio host, comedian, and actor Steve Harvey. A slew of movie screenings from around the world continued at Baldwin Hills Rave Cinemas for the next 11 days. Among the offerings were the films: Slavery By Another Name; a documentary based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Wall Street Journalist Donald Blackmon; Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day, the sequel to Pastor T. D. Jakes’ award-winning film: Woman Thou Art Loosed, and two movies from Nigerian actor-turned-producer Hakeem Kae-Kazim — Man on Ground and Inside Story. Man on Ground tells the story of two expatriate Nigerian brothers and their journey to heal their relationship amidst violence and political turmoil. Inside Story is a drama about one man from Kenya and his struggle with HIV while persuing his dreams of a professional soccer career. Kae-Kazim stars in both films.

Kae-Kazim, became acquainted with Los Angeles a decade ago, when his first film, God is African, premiered at the Pan African Film Festival. Since then he has entered the Hollywood mainstream and has starred in Hotel Rwanda, the television crime-drama “24”, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

“I’m from Africa, so what’s important for me is that our voice, the African voice, has an opportunity to be seen in America. That African voice is an honest voice,” said Hakeem Kae-Kazim.

History of the Pan African Film Festival

The Pan African Film Festival is a non-profit corporation founded in 1992, by award winning actor Danny Glover, Emmy Award winning actress Ja’Net DuBois, and International legal, cultural and political consultant Ayuko Babu. Widely regarded as the most prestigious Black film festival in the nation, the Pan African Film Festival is dedicated to the promotion of tolerance, ethnic and racial respect through film, art and creative expression. The goal of the Pan African Film Festival is to present and showcase the broad spectrum of creative work and reinforce positive images of the Black experience.

For more information of Pan African Film Festival screenings, please visit:

Los Angeles County: Through the eyes of local artists

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) recently unveiled its latest poster showcasing Whittier for its Through the Eyes of Local Artists poster series.

For this poster series, Metro commissioned local artists to create original artwork to visually portray the regions that make up Los Angeles County. The posters, which can be seen on 250 Metro trains and 2,400 buses, spotlight various regions and cultural landmarks of Los Angeles, from the Watts Towers to the parkland of Griffith Park and every community in between. Since the first poster featuring the parades and festivals of Pasadena debuted in 2003, the series continues to feature the iconic symbols of each region. The goal of the series is two-fold: first, to create a pleasant and visually stimulating environment for passengers and second, to increase ridership. Metro recognizes that art creates a sense of place and seeks to use art to encourage the public to use the transit system to travel to the many diverse neighborhoods in Los Angeles County.

Through the Eyes of Local Artists has generated national recognition from Public Relations Society of America, Outstanding Achievement How Magazine, Pasadena Museum of California Art, Illustration Magazine, Transportation Marketing and Communication Association, Print Magazine Regional Design and the LA Society of Illustrators.

Five communities in the Second Supervisorial District are showcased in Through the Eyes of Local Artists. They include: Leimert Park, Watts, Exposition Park, Compton and Gardena. Now in its 10th year, the next installment of the series will feature Inglewood, Claremont, Pico Rivera, and San Fernando.

Empowering future leaders through dialogue: 2012 Empowerment Congress Youth Summit

While civil rights leader and activist Rev. Al Sharpton was speaking to a rapt audience at the University of Southern California’s Bovard Auditorium during the 20th Anniversary Summit of the Empowerment Congress, a gathering of a different kind was occurring across campus. A diverse group of 250 children, youth and chaperones convened the 2012 Youth Summit. Participants, ranging from first graders to high school seniors, engaged in a dialectic approach modeled after “Days of Dialogue,” a series of conversations between cultural groups born in the wake of the 1992 civil unrest. The day’s event was entitled, “Youth Empowered: Celebrating Our Heritage, Strengthening Our Community.”

Lead Facilitator Avis Ridley-Thomas and trained facilitators from the UCLA Institute of Nonviolence, along with the assistance of educators and volunteers from the Empowerment Congress Education Committee assisted the students, who were randomly assigned to small groups, as they navigated a series of questions about conflict and problem solving. Facilitators posed a series of questions taken from Youth Issues, Youth Voices: A Guide for Engaging Youth and Adults in Public Dialogue and Problem-Solving, including ones such as: What (if any) issues have arisen in your school/community between racial and/or ethnic groups? What is being done in your school/community to address problems between groups? What has worked? What’s not working well? What could we do to reduce conflicts between groups? And lastly: How can youth take the lead?

The goal of the event was to elicit open and frank discussion, and it did. Young participants shared their views and experiences on race, culture and issues of inclusion as it related to their families, school environment and peer groups. Some spoke of divisions and tension in their schools and neighborhoods. Most students referenced the similarities that exist among various groups, yet spoke of living within isolated communities and proposed increasing activities among youth and adults that serve to bring individuals together. The overall tone of the Youth Summit was uplifting. Students were addressed by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheriff Lee Baca, as well as noted actor, author and activist Hill Harper. Harper caused a stir when he spoke, urging the youths to believe in themselves, assuring them that they can overcome whatever obstacles come their way.

“The perspectives gained from engaging our youth add significant value to the Second District,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. ” If we are to raise up a generation of future leaders who will positively contribute to our communities, we must unapologetically support and promote our youth.” As the 2012 Youth Summit drew to a close, students were buoyant and empowered to go forward as leaders in their schools and communities. The Education Committee plans to hold smaller dialogues with youth at local schools as part of the 20th Anniversary Year of Empowerment.

More than 18 schools schools and organizations from throughout the diverse tapestry of the Second District participated, including: Washington Preparatory High School, Morningside High School , Kayne Eras Center, Tongan American Youth Foundation, Century Center for Economic Opportunity Inc. (Youthbuild), J. Eldridge Taylor (JET) Foundation, Educating Young Minds, Verbum Dei High School, Brotherhood Crusade, Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) and Animo Pat Brown High School.