PBI Interview with Edna Chavez, Gun Control Activist and a Member of the Community Coalition’s South Central Youth Empowered thru Action (SCYEA) Program.
The Pat Brown Institute honored Chavez and her SCYEA peers at its 2018 dinner, Women Transforming Our Worlds.
The Pat Brown Institute spoke with Chavez about ending gun violence, women in politics, and youth activism.*
Pat Brown Institute (PBI): What is Community Coalition South Central Youth Empowered thru Action and how did you become involved in the organization?
Edna Chavez (EC): Community Coalition (CoCo) is an organization based in South Los Angeles that works with residents (Black and Latino) to build power in order to influence policies and transform South LA. We have a youth program called SCYEA, (South Central Youth Empowered thru Action). We work with five different high schools, along with community schools, around South LA to help empower black and brown students in order to develop their leadership skills and also to push for policy changes in both their communities and their schools. We work hard to push for educational, racial, and social justice.
There, students are provided with the resources they need. We get transportation to and from school for our safety. They provide us with food as well, which was modeled after the Black Panther Party Breakfast Program. SCYEA also provides students with academic support by providing us with tutors from UCLA, Cal State LA, USC, and LMU for many different subjects we may need help with. Most importantly, SCYEA helps empower us with a Political Education and develop the skills we need to become leaders by having the program be youth led.
I got involved because of another peer at my high school who was already part of the organization for nearly two years. I’m passionate about the issues we talk about at CoCo. I’m affected by many of the things we talk about and so are my peers. More than talk about these things we take action, we like to think about solutions and come up with ways to implement them to create change.
PBI: How can we help our communities stop gun violence?
EC: We need to begin to acknowledge the root causes of the situation such as the lack of guidance from teachers and other resources. The fact is that students aren’t getting the opportunity to be able to talk about these situations. We need to listen and provide the resources, such as mental health assistance, paid internships and job opportunities to help provide the youth that sense of responsibility and independence. We also need to provide mentorship programs to uplift not only youth voices but all inner cities.
We need to increasingly speak out loud and bring awareness while reaching out to surrounding communities/ organizations. Youth spreading awareness to their peers and teachers and organizing meetings in their schools to make sure the message is already out there. It is important
for students to demand the funding and resources needed for higher education. We need adults to get out of their comfort zone and be open minded to new ideas and new ways to tackle to situations we as a community are facing. We must uplift each other and mentor one another and help to integrate the generations.
PBI: Tell us a bit about your experience at March for Our Lives in Washington D.C.
EC: The experience overall has been really emotional, yet very uplifting. In the beginning, I was extremely nervous and just couldn’t get my emotions together. Everything went by really fast and when it was time to go up, I didn’t have time to feel scared, nervous, or excited. It wasn’t until I got on that stage in front of thousands while they were already chanting, “vote them out!”
We were there to make the violence many of us have faced known, because as people of color, we are ignored. As an inner city, we are ignored. That is why it was important to us to be present, to get that message out and continue to have that momentum going. We are all grateful for this moment.
That’s where I knew I needed to stand my ground and be strong not for myself but also for my community. I didn’t know what to expect from the march itself, and neither did my community/ peers who were there with me. It was a very intimidating moment for us, but especially me because I was the one speaking for all of South LA. It is so surreal that we were being given this opportunity but as a community we knew the importance of taking up the space of a predominantly white movement. We weren’t there to diminish the pain by those affected by this great event, and we weren’t there to make our pain a sob story. We were there to make the violence many of us have faced known, because as people of color, we are ignored. As an inner city, we are ignored. That is why it was important to us to be present, to get that message out and continue to have that momentum going. We are all grateful for this moment.
PBI: Have you noticed more young women becoming involved in politics? And if so, why do you think that is?
EC: Women have always been involved with politics. It was just being overshadowed with many of the male politicians and society. Mujeres, especially women of color are now reclaiming their power because they are tired of being ignored and having their work diminished. It goes back to how politics have largely ignored work of women and as more time has passed by, with current events happening, it has become clear to everyone that if the man in power isn’t going to take action then those mothers, those women, and those young girls will. It’s the twenty first century and now that we are going into this movement, as a nation, community and people of color, it is very important that the work that has been done for decades is now recognized.
PBI: Why is youth participation in politics so important today?
EC: It is no surprise that youth are participating in politics today. This ongoing fight, for resources, funds, programs and local jobs has been going on for decades and it is still being overshadowed, especially for youth of color. But that all comes to an end. The outreach youth have been doing, the way they have been speaking up about everything going on, the movements and moments they are creating for everything they believe in has made such an impact on folks around the globe, and really comes to show that we are here to make a difference. We are putting a stop on everything that has been said about youth speaking up, people diminishing our message and shifting that narrative of inner cities and students of color and people in color as well. Those in power have to remember. We ARE the future.
* This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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Read more at Women Transforming Our Worlds: Annual Dinner 2018