Donna Myrow, the founder in 1988 of the teen-written free newspaper L.A. Youth, is telling anyone who will listen that the paper is facing financial calamity this month. The number cited this week in the Los Angeles Times sounded more than supremely daunting — "Myrow said the newspaper needs to raise $500,000 by mid-May or it will run out of money" — and in a follow-up email Myrow tells me the hole is for real. "Yes, huge number," she writes. "This has never happened before." L.A. Youth gets free printing from the Times, after a threatened cut-off a few years ago, and some major philanthropic donations, but the sources have been drying up.
Now two graduates of the program have authored arguments for continued support of the publication, which started after a 1988 Supreme Court ruling empowered school administrators to control the content of school newspapers. Each issue has an estimated readership of about 400,000, the Times says
Writes Jason Sperber, at Good magazine's website:
If you lived in Los Angeles on April 29, 1992, you remember where you were when the city began to burn.
I’d just turned 18 and was two months from graduating from Los Angeles High School. I grew up in Koreatown, the biracial son of two public school teachers living in a multiracial, middle-class neighborhood in the center of the city. I saw Los Angeles as a city of diverse voices telling their own personal, yet interconnecting stories in a beautiful multitude of languages. And because of my involvement in L.A. Youth, a nonprofit youth newspaper founded in 1988, I knew that it was important that my classmates and I share our voices....
The stories L.A. Youth’s 80 current student journalists are producing, like surveying 1,850 Los Angeles County high school students on how education budget cuts are affecting them, expose the truth about what’s happening in Los Angeles today in a way that wasn't possible 20 years ago. The spotlight the paper recently shone on the disproportionate truancy ticketing of students of color in lower income neighborhoods by the police helped bring about an end to the practice. Through their stories—and the way they travel on social media platforms—today's student writers are speaking truth to power and fighting for their peers, for their communities, local organizations, and for themselves.
Beeta Baghoolizadeh, a UCLA graduate now completing her Master's in Mideast Studies at the University of Texas, tells her story of writing for L.A. Youth:
L.A. Youth showed me the diversity of our county, instilled in me a passion for writing, and most importantly, gave me a space to claim my identity. I grew up in a privileged neighborhood—a bubble, if you will—and attended a nationally recognized high school, but it fell short in providing opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone. Staff meetings at L.A. Youth pulled me out of that bubble and engaged me in critically discussing important issues and current events: the educational system, the war in Iraq and protests against it, prejudice and racism. L.A. Youth was a special place—our staff meetings reflected the diversity of Los Angeles, and each student served as an ambassador representing a different corner of the county. We compared experiences, shared ideas, and claimed our identities in those two hours. But even more importantly, our discussions did not end with the meetings. We picked up our pens and wrote. Starting junior year, I made the one-hour trek every Saturday out to L.A. Youth’s office to meet with my editor and other student staff writers. I was first invited by a friend to attend a staff roundtable on Islam in America in 2004, just three years after the tragedy of 9/11 and a year after the Iraqi invasion. At that point, I had experienced problems in school already. Two of my teachers had made anti-Islamic comments at me, and many of the Arabs at my school had graduated early to escape. That roundtable meeting was the seed to my article, where I wrote about the issues I faced as an American-Muslim post 9/11. For the first time, I wrote my story, and people responded. I had begun a discussion that I couldn’t have at my high school. Later, when I worked with Jordan High School students in Watts while going to UCLA, I encouraged my students to explore their identities through writing, just as my editor had taught me. What will be of L.A. without this newspaper? A city with silent youth.
Myrow wrote a few years ago about getting to know and collaborate with the novelist and screenwriter Budd Schulberg soon after he launched the Watts Writers Workshop following the 1965 riots.