by Cecilia Dos Santos, Executive Coordinator and Program Manager
Executive Coordinator and Program Manager, DREAMER committee member, and enthusiastic user of face make-up for Halloween, Cecilia Dos Santos has a background in dating and sexual violence advocacy for youth. A native of West Hartford, CT and graduate of Tufts University, she writes about the intersection of immigrant youth experiences and gender-based violence.
The leadership, staff, and participants of LAYC are appalled to learn of the Department of Homeland Security's plans to raid immigrant communities and homes under the guise of securing our borders, enforcing immigration laws, and deterring new waves of Central American immigrants.
Conditions in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala rise above and beyond the level of a humanitarian crisis. Our newly arrived Central American immigrants are true refugees, escaping violence and war and unable to ensure the safety and livelihood of their families in their home countries. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and offered the basic protections and security to live free from the kind of state violence they're fleeing. These raids stand in stark contrast to our country's values.
In response, local community leaders, government officials, activists and residents have quickly gathered to form rapid response strategies to address the Department of Homeland Security's plan to raid homes and communities of immigrant families. We're spreading information to our youth, their parents, and our community members to understand their rights should they face an action from the Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid. And, we're working with our local government and civic leaders to stress that our communities will not be intimidated and scared into isolation. All our youth participants and their families are urged to continue to go to school and work, attend their enrichment programs, religious centers and sports activities, and visit hospitals and clinics to meet their health needs. The District of Columbia Mayor's Office on Latino Affairs Director, Jackie Reyes announced the city is not cooperating with ICE at a recent press conference.
When we at LAYC talk about immigrant's rights, we know that it is not just policy and procedures. We know these raids will overwhelmingly impact vulnerable mothers, children, and unaccompanied minors. We know that many victims of these raids, though targeted by enforcement actions to round up those with existing removal or deportation orders, may have not been properly notified or given adequate legal assistance and representation to navigate our complex immigration processing system. We know that our community began 2016 with the terrifying knowledge that ICE has apprehended more than 120 immigrant individuals across a number of states. And, we also know that those forced to return to Central America are going back to the same conditions of extreme poverty, gang and state violence, extortions, physical and sexual assault, and even death. These are hard-working mothers and innocent children and youth who made the impossible choice between living in continuous fear and facing death, or risking their lives crossing multiple countries and dangerous terrains in hope of finding relief, compassion, and asylum.
In our community, in the neighborhoods and schools where LAYC and MMYC staff offer their programs and services, we have witnessed the fear, isolation, and violence that these actions have caused. While these actions are directed against recent arrivals, fear is widespread regardless when someone came. Our friends in Langley Park, Maryland are processing the reality and impact of confirmed ICE raids that have separated immigrant families. In DC, we're hearing youth and students express too much fear for their safety to keep them attending after-school activities, or simply moving about public spaces from home to school where they feel exposed and vulnerable.
We stand with our community, our families, and youth to demand President Obama bring an immediate end to these raids and scare tactics and grant temporary protective status to Central American families fleeing violence and extreme poverty.
Youth Developer, Media Instructor, and Spongebob Squarepants advocate, OnRaé Watkins has a background in music production and radio broadcast. A Maryland native and graduate of Howard University's John H. Johnson School of Communications, OnRaé writes about the latest news involving LAYC's art and media programs.
The Teen Center's Beats N' Radio program was designed to offer youth an opportunity to express themselves creatively through music and radio production. For ten weeks, my students participated in a series of technical workshops to develop their understanding of musical composition and radio broadcast strategies. To showcase some of their newly acquired skills, my music students were assigned the task of writing and producing an original hip-hop song dedicated to the Teen Center.
Entitled "We Got It," the song acts as an LAYC recruitment and engagement tool as each young lyricist describes their thoughts on why others should join the Teen Center. The track was produced by Art Brown and includes verses by Giselle Reyes, Dylan Cooper, Amelia Dames and James Poindexter.
Take a look at the Beats N' Radio students' ten week journey.
Teen Center Winter Session
January 25th- March 25th 2016
Open to youth between the ages of 11-21
Art, Media & More
2nd Nature –Video
2nd Nature -Perform
The Zone Academic Programs
Art, Media, & More...
Comic Club: Come learn more about the origins behind your favorite heroes and villains from comics and movies.
2nd Nature: How do you feel about the environment? Explore your place in the world and tell your story in video or performance.*
Guitar: This class will teach all levels, from basic to more advanced skills acoustic guitar.
Jewelry Making: Discover many techniques for making jewelry and learn about social entrepreneurship.
Music Production: Learn about all things to creating music – songwriting, engineering, recording your music...
Radio Production: Produce a weekly radio show and create dialogue in your community. Learn journalism, dj'ing, and communications.*
The Club: Help promote community peace building in your community.*
The Zone: Tutoring and academic mentorship with tutors from Georgetown University.
Recreation: Open Rec: You can relax with your friends or play a game.
By Juan Pacheco, Cardozo High School After-school Site Supervisor
Youth sign peace pledge at peace vigil, September 15, 2015.
In recent months, violence in El Salvador has risen to levels not seen since the twelve-year civil war that ravaged that nation and its people in the 1980s, a civil conflict that forced thousands of families to flee north, seeking safety and peace in our region. Locally, we have seen the influx of thousands of recently arrived youth and families, and unaccompanied minors, who are victims of that violence and are seeking a safe haven in the United States. Such a huge and complex issue can seem like something we cannot do anything about, but I venture to believe that we can and we should.
While LAYC is working with these youth and families to access educational and employment opportunities, mental health services, legal aid, and other help, we also support advocacy efforts to improve conditions for youth locally and help them find community in their new home country. LAYC recently supported youth who organized a peace vigil on Salvadoran Independence Day in front of the Salvadoran Embassy to call attention to the violence in El Salvador and ask the Ambassador to play a deeper role in advocating for Central American youth in the DC area and to support strategies in El Salvador that cultivate peace through peaceful means.
Youth share their message of peace at the Salvadoran Embassy, September 15, 2015.
The Ambassador met with the youth and listened to how our young people wanted to "do something for their home country." He shared his concerns, but also his hopes for peace and invited the youth to attend the independence celebrations the embassy would be hosting that evening. The Ambassador added our young people's message of cultivating peace through peaceful means as a formal part of the embassy's program for the celebration. There was no violence, there was no finger pointing at the government or the gangs. There were only hopes, and dreams, and prayers for peace for El Salvador and all of its people; and peace for the city many now call home: Washington DC.
The Great Give Back meal-making with LAYC Safe Housing program participants and their children and staff.
by Robin Harris, Safe Housing Case Manager
"I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver," Maya Angelou wrote these words in her essay The Sweetness of Charity. During National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month in November, the youth and staff of LAYC's Safe Housing program practiced this act of liberation by giving back in a big way. The Safe Housing program offers a street outreach center to homeless and runaway youth where they may access case management and housing resources. The program also offers several transitional living programs for youth 18-24 years old, including single adults and young families.
The little ones help pack 100 meals for the homeless, November 16, 2015.
Those in need are often found to be the most giving of their talents and resources. When we discovered we had no planned events for November's National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month, I decided to take it directly to our youth to brainstorm a new event. Three of our youth, Kiara Hood, Howard Gardner, and Ali Singleton came up with the idea of giving back to the homeless in honor of the month's significance. During an impassioned late night conversation at one of our housing sites, Ali and Howard came up with the event's goals and its name: The Great Give Back.
The idea was simple: buy enough food for 100 complete meals, put them together, and hand them out to homeless people without shelter in downtown DC. Everyone in Safe Housing lit up with excitement when we approved the idea for The Great Give Back. Kids, parents, and single youth alike gladly assembled 100 sub sandwiches and meal ingredients one evening. Kids in the program learned why we were putting sandwiches together but not eating them, and everyone in the program got a chance to help in whatever way they could. The following day, our troop of youth and staff trekked down to Franklin, McPherson, and Farragut Squares to feed 100 homeless people. We were even able to give some street outreach resources to several homeless LGBTQ youth who had nowhere to stay.
Safe housing youth make sandwiches for 100 meals for the homeless, November 16, 2015.
Kory Molina, our peer educator at the Street Outreach program, said, "Making meals for people in need was one of the best experiences ever! We all put so much love into it. When we got to downtown, at first I was like 'where are the homeless?' I was concerned we were going to have to take the food back. Then, we got to the park and everything changed. The first meal I gave out was very touching...well, all of them were! It was an old man in his late 60's. He looked at me, and a tear came down his face. He said 'Thank you young lady, I had not eaten in days. May God bless you!' I felt something stuck in my throat; I felt like crying. In fact, every meal I handed out came with a feeling of love. There is nothing better than helping others." Jessica Hicks, our Street Outreach program/LGBTQ Transitional Living program youth developer said "The event was amazing. To see the youth in action is a testimony to the power of giving back and the sense of community that it gives to others. Although our youth are going through the same situation, they benefited from putting their all into giving back. It shows that homelessness knows no boundaries, but through that there is still good in the world."
One of our youth, Daniel, said "It made me feel great to help other people...to give them an opportunity to eat. It made me feel wonderful. It was great to give without expecting anything in return."
At the end of the night, everybody went home feeling like they did some tangible good for the world that day. We all had the knowledge that no matter our situation, everyone can contribute and put a smile on someone else's face. Safe Housing hopes to make The Great Give Back an annual event to honor National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month.
LAYC's Safe Housing program youth and staff in downtown DC ready to hand out meals to the homeless, November 17, 2015.
A very wise woman once told me, "Education is the key to opportunity." This woman was my mother, a teen parent that had endured the hardships of the cycle of poverty. She knew that education was the gateway to access opportunities and socio-economic upper mobility.
This message was instilled in me at a young age, and it has propelled me to achieve things I never imagined. It just takes one person to believe in you to empower you to achieve your full potential.
This principle guides all of the programs under the education department at the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC), and the College Access Mentoring Program (CAMP) over the summer was no exception. We built CAMP to promote the idea that higher education is possible in our black and brown communities regardless of socio-economic status.
It was important to create an experience that demonstrated how higher education allows access to better employment opportunities, financial gains, professional and personal development, and overall quality of life. Most of all, we wanted to show youth that higher education can provide a means to help la familia and opens the pathway for the next generation.
The ultimate ingredient to ensuring the success of each young person at CAMP was the caring staff who mentored, guided, and believed in the amazingness of each of the youth who participated.
I hope you enjoy reading these reflections as much as I did.
To CAMP grads: good luck on your life-long educational journey!