Teaching to Change LA > Youth Voices > Vol. 5, Issue 1 > Electoral Politics
Electoral Politics > Features > Crenshaw Group Paper

Crenshaw: A Community Civic Profile


It is often taught that with time, comes progress and change. If this holds true, then why is it that South LA students are finding themselves facing the same struggles and the same disparaging conditions that students in the 1960’s faced? Struggles that students demonstrated against by walking out, protesting, and demanding that political figures take action. If these students supposedly invoked progress, then why is it that these same schools, forty years later, are still facing issues with overcrowded classrooms, underfunded programs, and an overall failure to educate their students? Have these students failed themselves by not speaking out, or is it that the world failed them by not listening?

During the summer of 2004, a research group composed of high school students from Garfield, Crenshaw, San Fernando, and Santa Monica, embarked on the task of discovering ways that students are involved politically in their community. Through careful examination of current curriculum, we discovered that educational institutions are failing to instruct their students in the ways in which they can demonstrate against unjust situations; they are not being taught how to voice their opinions, and, thus, are not being taught how to act politically. With these current situations in mind, the group sought to answer the following questions: 1) What does it mean to be political in South LA? 2) What skills and tools do young people need to be effective in their civic engagement and 3) Why is it important for youth to study critical civic literacies? To uncover the answers to the questions we posed above, we implemented the use of critical research that included: surveys, personal interviews, demographic studies, research on school curriculum, research on local grass roots organizations, and the study of previous research data.

Youth are supposed to learn how to act civically in schools and have a curriculum that provides relevant concepts to their lives. But the reality is that they are not being taught to be civically involved in their schools and to fight for an interesting curriculum that relates to their lives because schools don’t want students to question their authority and they don’t want the students to fight for their minds.

This research is significant because 1) throughout history, systematic forces have sought to marginalize people of color, and through our work we hope to give a voice to the voiceless. 2) through our work we hope to unveil the current social and educational inequalities that exist in the Crenshaw community and 3) we hope to show educators what changes can be implemented into current school culture and curriculum so that students feel like they can engage politically.

Grounded Theory

As my group and I were researching, we encountered many authors whose form of sharing their opinions on world issues could only be expressed through writing. These authors are Paul Freire, Jay Macleod, Solorzano, Westheimer and Khane. In the First Letter written by Paul Freire he describes how, “there is no teaching without learning(Freire17).” This means that all your life you’re going to be learning and teaching from other people’s experiences. Freire’s definition of civic engagement is a person who sees a problem, finds the solution to that problem, and learns from that experience. Ain’t No Making It: Aspirations and Attainment in a low-income Community by Jay Macleod expresses what sociology of education really is about. The definition that he gives us is that it is a field of study that seeks to explain how forces of social reproduction help to maintain inequality in educational achievement (Macleod 35).

In Examining Transformational Resistance Through A Critical Race And LatCrit Theory Framework: Chicana and Chicano Students in an Urban Context by Daniel Solorzano & Dolores Delgado, the authors discuss transformational resistance. They talk about reactionary behavior, self-defeating resistance, conformist resistance, and transformative resistance. Reactionary behavior is when the student lacks critique of his or her oppressive conditions and is not motivated by social justice (Solorzano & Delgado, 317). One example of this is when a student who acts up and behaves poorly in class, the schoolyard, or the community has no critique of social justice. Students who engage in self-defeating resistance may have some critique of their oppressive social conditions but are not motivated by an interest in social justice (Solorzano & Delgado, 317). An example of this is dropout students who think that the system is out to get them. Students who engage in conformist resistance are students who are motivated by a need for social justice, but yet don’t question their system of oppression (Solorzano & Delgado, 318). These are students who really don’t question the system or everything that goes on around them. And finally, students who engage in transformational resistance are students whose behavior illustrates both a critique of oppression and a desire for social justice (Solorzano & Delgado, 319).

Critique of Social Oppression
Self-Defeating Resistance
Transformative Resistance
Not motivated by Social Justice
Motivated by Social Justice
Reactionary Behavior
Conformist Resistance
No Critique of Social Oppression

In Westheimer & Khane’s book, What Kind Of Citizen? The Politics Of Educating For Democracy, the authors talk about three different kinds of citizens who are present in modern day society. They are Personally Responsible Citizens, Participatory Citizens, and Justice Oriented Citizens.

A personally responsible citizen is a person who acts responsibly in his/her community (Westheimer & Khane 4). This type of citizen works, pays taxes, and obeys the laws. They recycle and donate blood. They are always trying to help out the community by lending their hands in times of crisis. They think that to solve social problems they need to have good character, be honest, responsible, and law abiding members of the community. They don’t realize that that is just the beginning in order to make a change in their community. They don’t realize that to make an impact on their communities they need to do something about those problems. These people think that they are being civically engaged by just voting. But that’s not enough.

Participatory citizens are people who participate in organizations and improvement efforts for the community (Westheimer & Khane, 5). They organize community efforts to care for those in need, they promote economic development, or clean up the environment. They are aware of how the government agencies work and they know strategies for accomplishing collective tasks. An example of this kind of citizen is a person who organizes a food drive for their community. We can assume that this type of citizen is a person who believes that in order to solve a problem and improve society, citizens must actively participate and take leadership positions within the established systems and community structures.

Justice oriented citizens are people who critically assess social, political, and economic structures to see beyond surface causes (Westheimer & Khane,7). They seek out and address areas of injustice, they know about social movements and how to effect systemic change. An example of this kind of citizen is a person who explores why people are hungry and acts to solve root causes. We can assume that that they believe that in order to solve social problems and improve society, citizens must question and change established systems and structures when they reproduce patterns of injustice over time.

In reviewing this article we saw that most of the people that we know are personally responsible citizens. We also noticed what steps our communities need to take in order to become a justice oriented citizens.

Personally Responsible Citizen Participatory Citizens Justice Oriented Citizens
Description Acts responsibly in his/her community

Works and pays taxes

Obeys laws

Recycles, gives blood

Volunteers to lend a hand in times of crisis

Active member of community organizations and/ or improvement efforts

Knows how government agencies work

Knows strategies for accomplishing collective tasks

Critically assesses social, political, and economic structures to see beyond surface causes

Seeks out and addresses areas of injustice

Knows about social movements and how to effect systemic change

Sample Action Contributes food to a food drive

Help to organize a food drive

Explores why people are hungry and acts to solve root causes

Core Assumptions To solve social problems and improve society, citizens must have good character and be law-abiding members of the community

To solve problems and improve society, citizens must actively participate and take leadership positions within established systems and community structures

To solve social problems and improve society, citizens must question and change established systems and structures when they reproduce patterns of injustice over time

The artist and activist panel described their beliefs in what they think youth are supposed to do to be more politically involved and how media affects a major percent of what youths believe about acting politically. When we spoke to the activists they told us that they felt that youths don’t pay attention to their outside world. They also said that it was the school systems’ fault that students don’t act civically in their community because they are not motivating the students to care about the social issues that surround them in their communities and they are not teaching them to solve them. The artist panel spoke about how they expressed their art to inform the community and that art was made to motivate the community to fight for change. The artist said that his music was made to express his feelings towards society. The whole panel also agreed that a reason why some minorities don’t feel motivated is because the people who become successful don’t come back to their community and that makes them feel that they are worthless and that they are not worthy to be successful. They also said that the reason youth are not civically involved is because it is not fashionable and it is not an important matter to them.

My group and I used these two questions to help guide our research. Where do youth learn to be civically engaged and what skills and tools do youth need to be civically engaged? Youth are supposed to learn how to act civically in schools and have a curriculum that provides relevant concepts to their lives. But the reality is that they are not being taught to be civically involved in their schools and to fight for an interesting curriculum that relates to their lives because schools don’t want students to question their authority. So it’s easy to brainwash students beginning in kindergarten. They make the students think that whatever they say is right, that they are only doing that for their own good, and the student believes them. They go through their whole life believing that they are learning what they are supposed to learn. But they never stop for a minute and ask themselves why they are not being taught to be critical thinkers? And why they have adopted the “I” mentality and not the “We” mentality? But yet the student never realizes that it is a bad habit to have because that causes people to not be united which creates chaos in the world.

The sites where youth can learn to be civically engaged are the streets because that is where they feel that they have a lot of power. Students need to be able to critically comprehend their community conditions so they can realize how they need to change the conditions in their community to make them better. The youth need to start questioning the way they live and what changes they can make in their lives to be more civically productive. They also need to have people skills because, without them, they will not be able to organize people who don’t have the same beliefs that they do. They need to learn how to organize themselves, make meetings, and make schedules of what they are doing because that will increase their success in any type of reform that they are trying to do. They should also research their causes to make sure that they are aware and updated about their causes.

Methods Section

Students at a south Los Angeles high school express experiencing a lack of preparation for the world beyond high school. The school that I go to does not do a good job of educating students either critically or mentally. At the school that I go to there are many things that need to be done. For example, the counselors should have a more open relationship with their students and they should be able to relate on subjects that the students are experiencing in the classrooms. The counselor does a poor job of not giving students the right classes that they need to graduate, which is known as the A-G requirements. There is a magnet and a gifted magnet program that is currently taking place at my school. The magnet program is a program for students with more potential than others, or so they say. The magnet program prepares students for all the P-SAT, SAT and many other important tests that students need to get into a good college. Students in the magnet program get all the attention they really need, while the students that are not in the magnet program experience a lack of attention, overcrowding, not enough books and even teachers that don’t meet the standards to be credentialed teachers.

In my 9th grade year I had classrooms with broken chair legs, desks that were written all over, gum under the desk, graffiti on the walls, no chalk to write on the board with, and even ants on the wall. Is that a place you would want to send your child to learn?

In the school that I go to, the classrooms have gotten better over the 3 years that I have been there. In my 9th grade year the classrooms were at maybe a D to C condition. In my 9th grade year, I had classrooms with broken chair legs, desks that were written all over, gum under the desk, graffiti on the walls, no chalk to write on the board with, and even ants on the wall. Is that a place you would want to send your child to learn?

Since I’ve enrolled in this UCLA Seminar I have been able to look at things that I paid no attention to in the past. For example, before this seminar, I didn’t care whether or not the school was fixed so this seminar has changed my perspective at the way I look at my school. We had the opportunity to go into the community and got people’s opinions on what they think about the community that they live in. Personally I was not shocked to hear that youth were aware of the conditions that they face on a day to day basis, whether in school or on the streets. It was sad to hear students in school and the testimonies that they rendered because somewhere along the way they lost hope.

To conduct our research, we needed research tools. The tools we used were digital cameras for still photographs, digital video cameras for establishing shots and to record, and audio recorders for individual and group testimony. We also took observational field notes to document what we saw in the schools, community, and community organizations. Last but not least, we looked at government textbooks and social studies state standards.

The first research methods we used were individual interviews and focus group interviews. We also listened to two panels and engaged in a question and answer session. To conduct this research, we began by writing various sets of interview questions. Our focus was to ask open ended questions that allowed the subjects the freedom to give long answers to short questions. We kept in mind the research purpose, occasion, location, observed interactions, and prior knowledge of values and interests in mind when writing many of the questions. For the most part, however, we began asking interview subjects for their definition of, or perspective on, certain ideas or issues. We were focused on exercising comprehensive and critical listening skills so that we could use parts of their answers for follow-up questions. This allowed us to dig deeper in our interview processes. When we were reaching the end of our series of questions, we wanted to ask what we considered, “the tough question.” A tough question is positioned like a devil’s advocate and often times challenged, if not excited, many of our interview subjects. This series of questions gave us the type of testimony needed to get quality qualitative data.

We sought to interview folks at three different sites: South Los Angeles High School, two community action organizations, and the general community. We wanted to interview youth and adults in each of these sites. This approach gave us 6 types of interview subjects: community youth and adults, school site youth and adults, and community activist youth and adults. Interviews were documented at least one of three ways: video recording, audio recording, or through field notes. We then tried to evaluate what the testimony was to measure where along the citizenship and resistance lines their ideas positioned itself.

One student that we interviewed asked us how we could go to a school where the counselors did not care and showed no interest. She basically said that somewhere along the way we’re going to lose focus because the people that are supposed to be pushing us are not helping us and we are left to figure out and make decisions on our own. Students were very aware of the conditions that the school that I go to faces today. Some students really don’t care because they feel that they don’t have anyone there to support them. There are some students who care about their education not because their counselors are there to push them and advise them of all the classes they need to take in order to graduate, but because they have good parents who take the time to go to all the meetings and know about all the functions and activities that takes place on campus. There were other people that I conducted interviews with who were just fed-up with the system and sick of the neglect caused by the government.

We also conducted an interview with Mr. Kalid, the individual that was accused of hitting a police officer on the day of a celebration call Juneteenth. We talked to him and he made pretty good points and felt that he was treated like a human being. He also mentioned that the police said that they are here to protect and serve but he questioned just who they are serving. He showed us the bruises under his eyes and said that he hopes that this does not happen to anyone else. He also talked about the history of police brutality and, of course, the Rodney King story came up. He said that’s who he felt like when the cops were beating him. He said for the first time in his life he felt and understood what Mr. King had experienced. Alongside him was his little daughter, and he mentioned that he was glad to be home and back with his family. We also visited the community coalition. The interviews that we conducted were very interesting because all of the people that we interviewed said they had a passion about something important.

The next method we used was a survey. For the surveys, we had to construct closed-ended questions and statements that participants could simply answer somewhere between the range of “totally agree” to “totally disagree,” and “excellent” and “poor.” Survey question themes were about reading and writing about civic life, cyber civic engagement, media and art, film in civic life, injustice/inequality and social issues, participation in groups, protests and actions to improve community and school, and finally, information about the political system's conditions.

We also sought to understand the community through “the writing (or vendor signs, graffiti, photographs, and murals) on the walls.” Much of this data was digitally photographed for analysis later. The analysis gave us a sense of what’s important to the community. What cultural and political appeals are foregrounded? What visual appeals are used? What textual appeals? We then compared this analysis to the ones applied to textbooks and state standards analysis. Comparing the non-sanctioned curriculums to the school sanctioned ones helped us to synthesize the similarities and differences of civic lessons in South Los Angeles.

Finally, we looked through various statistical data to give us a quantifiable sense of the community. We looked at the number of people in various age groups that live in South Los Angeles and asked how many lived in poverty and what is their ethnic percentage breakdown? We also looked at the number of students who graduate from South Los Angeles High School and compared that number to the number who enter the ninth grade. We also looked at the number of continuation schools in South Los Angeles to get a sense of where those who disappear from high school might go.

Data Collection and Analysis

Community Civic Profile

The school and community site that is located near my school plays a big role in our everyday life at school. For example the continuation school that is located beside our school kind of serves as a second chance for students who need to make up credits because they messed up in regular school. The narratives told by the students in the area of the community say that we need more group solidarity, meaning that instead of hating each other we need to have each others' back more, and unite. Another theme that also emerged from students in the community is that they felt as if we did not have any positive leaders in the community. No one wants to take a stand and fight for what they believe in. They felt that we needed more activists in the community in order for any serious community action to take place.

There were many narratives that emerged from the south Los Angeles area that we visited. They talked to us about joblessness and how it affects people in a very dramatic way. For example, one of the young men said that he does not have any money so he pockets checks intended for other people of color. He admits that what he is doing is wrong, but he says that his way of making a living is what the system wants him to do, which is keeping the violence within his own race. We also talked to a principal at a local school. The way he looked at school was definitely what I would have expected from a principal. He sounded like he had a pathetic feeling towards the school. We talked to many different people with many different perspectives and the way they feel about the school that they attend and the way they view their school. Some students were satisfied with the way things are at their school and some were not satisfied. Some wanted to see a change because they thought that their community could be a place where people communicated with each other on a more intellectual level. There were some students that lost hope a long time ago and were just going to school because they were being forced to; sad to say, that was the truth behind their stories. The important issues that youths face today in their communities were peer pressure, stereotypes, being ignored, dehumanization and police harassment, being silenced, and, most importantly, that teachers can’t relate to the students’ narratives and the way they feel. We believe that if teachers can relate to the things that we experience and the things that affect us, we would be more critically engaged citizens.


In order to conduct research certain materials are needed for the job. We need student surveys, interviews, textbooks, skills to analyze standards, observational data, critical qualitative research, focus group panel discussions, digital video footage, and audio footage. The tools we used were cameras and tape recorders.

The Community Coalition is an action group. Many high school students work there. After researching in South LA I found out many things that I did not know about my community. I found out that my community was 48% Black, 48% Latino, and 4% White. I also found the school and age population in my community. There are 9,000 children living in my community who are under the age of 5. There are 24,000 youth from ages 5-17, and 5,000 from ages 18-21. There are 10,000 from ages 22-29 and 14,000 between the ages of 30 and 39. There are 14,000 from ages 40-49 and 12,000 from ages 50- 64. And there are 8,000 who are ages 65 and up.


Another important piece of information that I researched was the education level in my community. 26% of studens are 9th graders. 20% of students in my community go to colleges, 6% earn AA degrees, 5% earn BA degrees, and 3% graduate with a degree. I also found out about the people in poverty in my community. In my community 29,629, people live in poverty and throughout the whole state of California there are 4,706,130 people living in poverty. Six weeks ago I did not have all this information about my community and now I do.


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